Monday, December 18, 2006
Yes, I'm a little slow, but my latest discovery is Band of Horses, out of Seattle, proving ever more that the best sounds out of the excited states is either out of the South or out of Seattle. This song is called The Funeral, and is quite moving. The lead vocalist souns a bit like Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips. At first listen I picked up Doug Martsch from Built to Spill.
The following is Stephen Deusner's review from Pitchfork, March 20, 2006. He gives it 8.8 rating:
"At every occasion, I'm ready for a funeral."
In the year between my father's diagnosis with cancer and his death, I dreaded the telephone. Whenever it rang, I jumped. Picking it up with a trepidant hand, I tried to quickly discern the caller's tone of voice, fearing the worst news. Whether intentionally or not, the line quoted above, from Band of Horses' debut album, Everything All the Time, perfectly evokes that particular anxiety. It's a sad line for any song, but Band of Horses singer Ben Bridwell's delivery isn't mopey or self-absorbed-- there are no intimate acoustic guitars or whispery male vocals accompanying these words. Instead, he belts them over soaring guitars and extroverted chords, all tempered with a stoicism that staves off histrionics. Turning despondency into indie majesty is a major talent of Band of Horses; their music is carefully balanced to evoke specific emotional responses while allowing space for personal projection.
More elemental than the lush dream-pop of Bridwell and Mat Brooke's former band Carissa's Wierd (the duo played all the instruments here before fleshing out the band with backing musicians), Band of Horses' sound will be immediately, invitingly familiar to anyone who reads this site regularly. Their guitar-heavy sound and Bridwell's echo-y vocals invite specific comparisons to labelmates the Shins as well as My Morning Jacket, and more general similarities can be noted with forebears such as Neil Young and the Ocean Blue. While apt, these comparisons seem restrictive and reductive, but their limitations can be illuminating. On quieter songs such as "St. Augustine", Bridwell recalls Jim James' reverb-heavy vocals, but he lacks the defining regional drawl; as a result, Band of Horses seem placeless. Where the Shins coil their songs tightly to spring out at the choruses, Bridwell and Brooke's tracks sprawl languorously-- more atmospheric than hooky, but nevertheless too structured and targeted to be considered jammy.
Band of Horses' alternately lucid and obscure songwriting remains life-size, even as their guitars swell beyond the everyday. Album centerpiece "The Great Salt Lake" begins with a jangly guitar that suggests early R.E.M., lying low to the ground during the verses until the chorus takes off. They also successfully work that contrast between earthbound and airborne on "The Funeral" and "Monsters", with its rickety banjo carving a rough path for a climactic finale.
Of course, if all of Everything strove for such catharsis, the repetition of builds and releases would become tedious and cheap. Wisely, Band of Horses show off a much broader dynamic, peppering the album with rangier numbers like "The First Song" and the churning, catchy "Wicked Gil". "Weed Party", the album's most upbeat track, even begins with what sounds like a spontaneous and genially goofy "yeee-haw!" Still, every element and track on Everything contributes to the album's wistful, twilit atmosphere, from its first cascading guitar chords to its final rueful strums. And instead of closing with the slow crescendo of "Monsters", they go out on a quieter note with "St. Augustine", a gently ebbing tune featuring both Horses singing together, Bridwell's higher-pitched voice anchored by Brooke's low whisper. So the album's not as grim as that introductory quotation would imply; the band's downheartedness is always offset by a sense of hope. As Bridwell sings on "Monsters", "If I am lost it's only for a little while."
Though Band of Horses aren't likely to be heralded as trailblazers, they do sound quietly innovative and genuinely refreshing over the course of these 10 sweeping, heart-on-sleeve anthems. Ultimately, the band's most winning trait is its delicate balance of elements-- between gloom and promise, quiet and loud, epic and ordinary, familiar and new, direct and elliptical, artist and listener. Each of these aspects makes the others sound stronger and more complex, making Everything All the Time an album that's easy to get lost in and even easier to love.