It’s a tale as old as the hills: Boy meets girl, boy and girl date for a long time, girl dumps boy, boy is devastated, boy writes songs. Hell, people (and certainly not just boys) have based their entire careers on it, and some would argue that the genre known as “emo” exists solely for the purpose of raging at exes. For Stewart Anderson, the blow came particularly hard: His girlfriend of five years slept with a friend of his on New Year’s Eve, and then ran off with the bastard, leaving poor Stew all alone and far, far from home. Ouch.
All of this information is available in the liner notes to Horselaugh on My Ex, the appropriately titled album by Anderson’s alter ego, Steward, that resulted from the sordid affair. It’s got lyrics like “Does he kiss better than me, or just differently?” and “How does it feel at night to have someone else’s dick inside you now?” The back cover has the requisite me-and-her-in-happier-times photobooth shots. Yeah, we’ve all been there, but why should you care that some dude got played?
Because Stewart Anderson isn’t any old pathetic reject, and Horselaugh isn’t any old weepy, wimpy emasculation record (not that there’s anything wrong with those—they can get you laid!). As the core member of the Leeds indie group Boyracer, Anderson has spent most of the last decade leading an on-and-off, constantly changing lineup through mad rushes of alcohol-fueled fuzz-pop bliss, churning out a bazillion impossible-to-find singles and albums on a bazillion different labels. He has collaborated with countless denizens of the international pop underground, and runs his own imprint, 555 Recordings, which has released music by Cex, Kid606, the Aislers Set, Hood, and a bunch of other people no one’s ever heard of.
To coincide with the latest version of the Racer’s first American tour, Anderson put together Boyfuckingracer, a 33-song collection rendering searches for out-of-print seven-inches and limited-edition colored vinyl pointless. Although the track-by-track commentary makes the group seem like one big drunken party, Anderson’s command of melody—from the shimmering, distortion-drenched catchiness of the leadoff “He Gets Me So Hard” (Stew notes: “Confused my parents for a while”) to the slow bedroom lo-fi of the newest song, “Foam”—makes clear that he’s been in control the whole time. But all that cred and talent didn’t mean shit to that bitch.
Like anyone’s mental state after a nasty breakup, Horselaugh is a total mess. Anderson’s vocals often sound like they were recorded over a bad cell phone connection, with prettiness buried beneath layers of feedback, and he’s smothered the whole thing in loud, obnoxious beats. So basically it’s like Boyracer being attacked by Atari Teenage Riot (or, as the case may be, Kid606, who puts in an appearance on the bitterest track, “Happy New Years”). Stew acts positively loopy, reeling and rebounding all over the studio, pushing buttons and twirling knobs, cranking his pink Hello Kitty guitar all the way to 10 on one track, gently strumming an acoustic on the next. All sorts of weird samples (Nena, the Rocksteady Crew, what sounds like “Purple People Eater” sung in Japanese??) and random metal riffs pop up. He laughs at, longs for, and spits in the face of his former love, and desperately searches for new ones. And it’s absolutely glorious, the kind of mess you’d never want to clean up.
There are a few moments of conventional sweetness on Horselaugh: the way Anderson sings “It was a thrill just to feel the warmth of your body” in “My True Friends Are Golden,” the fuzz-free duets with Australians Frances Gibson of the Cannanes and Mary Wyer of Even as We Speak (the latter on an unironic cover of Meat Loaf’s “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” that just reaffirms what a fucking great song it is), the soaring version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Heaven,” which ends the album. But mostly the beauty (and the entertainment) is in the madness.
In stark contrast to Horselaugh‘s dark chaos, Steward’s latest collaboration with the Cannanes and NYC electro dude Explosion Robinson is a fluffy little confection. On the title song of the Felicity EP, Gibson’s lovely coo breezes by on dewdrops of slide notes and digital bleeps, the third track is a chillout remix, and in between sits a silly scenester-baiting tune called “I Like Cellos,” with a groovy bassline. But the standout is the closing Anderson/Gibson cover of Al Green’s “L-O-V-E (Love).” Over endearingly sloppy horns and ah-ah-whoa-whoa backing, Stew stretches out the title like a musical theater star. A far cry from “You say I’m gonna be all right/All I need is a little time/But then again I’m not the one who slept with one of your friends on New Years Eve,” and less than a year later.
So what happened? Yep, Stew’s found luurve once again, and this time it’s 4-eva. Last October, he married American supergirl Jen Turrell (who also guests on Horselaugh), solo artist, member of indie-pop trio Rabbit in Red, daughter of acclaimed visual artist James Turrell, and head of her own label, Red Square. To celebrate their union, they put out a compilation of their friends doing wedding songs, Anderson moved to the U.S., and Boyracer was resurrected for the millionth time (the group had lain dormant since ’97), now with Jen as a member. Awww! At the Racer’s last New York performance, at Barnard College soon after the wedding, Stew and Jen wore matching shoes and matching patches on their jeans, and watched the opening acts with their hands placed firmly in each other’s back pockets. How romantic!