The Lowcountry’s finest do it again While ruminating on his Sub Pop days during a 2008 interview, former label head Bruce Pavitt was asked who his favorite current band on the roster was. “Band of Horses,” was his surprising answer. “Those guys are doing some really amazing things.” Considering Pavitt can now be found hanging with shamans in the jungles of South America, it was hard to tell if he was being completely serious.
On its third disc Infinite Arms, this North Carolina band Band of Horses filters melodic? guitar growl through a dusty-bearded country-rock aesthetic. Singer-guitarist Ben Bridwell floats a boyish version of Neil Young’s plaintive whine over trance-y distortion or sunbaked jangle or porch-jockey folk while he plays slacker space cowboy. Even when he’s singing about zoning out on the couch, it feels Grand Canyon expansive.
What does America sound like? We know what it looks like. It's beautiful enough to make you cry. It's ugly enough to make you sick. America’s soul is similarly conflicted. One minute it's a country defined by its benevolence. The next its belligerence shocks the world. The character of American ….
After two albums on independent labels, South Carolina's Band of Horses' major label switch accompanies a similar musical shift towards reaching a wider audience. However, a much bigger, more spacious sound has been achieved without sacrificing intimacy or their old elemental sense of wonder. These are songs that reach for the sky yet speak to you personally, Ben Bridwell's vocals finding new peaks of plaintive yearning; the hooks virtually tumbling over each other to capture perfect, dewy pop.
Featuring a new lineup, a rather loose definition of Americana, and funding from a major label, Band of Horses' third album is a game changer. What began as a partnership between Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke has since blossomed into a five-piece band, with Bridwell serving as the only link between the group's 2006 debut, Everything All the Time, and the present. It's only natural, then, that Infinite Arms sounds wholly different from the albums that came before it, both of which mixed guitar-driven rock with dusty, jangled folk.
If you're coming fresh to Band of Horses, you're probably going to love Infinite Arms. It has all the smoothly delivered vocal harmonies and easygoing twang that's taken the beard rockers to their current state of Americana prominence. But if you've been with them since 2006's Everything All The Time and the subsequently strong Cease To Begin, you might feel the BOH's best times are in the rear-view mirror.
With the exception of the drifting, string-drenched opener, “Factory,” which sees Ben Bridwell and his Band of Horses galloping headlong into the Flaming Lips comparisons that have dogged them since their 2006 debut, Infinite Arms is a surprisingly understated affair. Despite adding a second full-time guitar player and a keyboardist to their lineup, and jumping from indie mainstay Sub Pop to the major-league Columbia, the band sounds smaller and more grounded than ever. Sure, they sprawl out in festival-ready form when they close the set with “Bartles + James,” but the material here does, to an even greater extent than 2007’s Cease to Begin, incline toward the spare and unfussy.
Infinite Arms, Band of Horses’ third album, is both surprising and disappointing. It’s surprisingly dull, and that’s disappointing. The band’s first two albums were hardly groundbreaking, but they were nothing if not innervating. The debut Everything All the Time (2006) was such a welcome, left-field success largely due to the fresh, sincere energy and striking dynamics Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke brought to their shimmering indie-rock.
It took two records, some movie trailer soundtracks, and a very universalist approach to their songwriting, and now Band of Horses find themselves being easily the most commercially viable group to keep their indie rock moniker intact. They consistently appear on festival main stages at dusky booking times, and the average teen, despite whatever scene they belong to, is probably rocking The Funeral or Is There a Ghost on their iPod. And, like every other popular modern rock band, it seems that Band of Horses isn’t going to be making concessions any time soon.
Band of Horses' first two efforts-- 2006's grandiose, heart-on-sleeve Everything All the Time and 2007's Cease to Begin-- are practically of a piece. More of a good thing's not usually a bad thing, but even fans of Cease admitted it was a merely lateral move, one Ben Bridwell and his Band have seemingly taken great strides to correct since. Infinite Arms, their third record, took some 16 months to record and was compiled from dozens of tracks.
I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m a sucker for a good melody. For as much as I might try to project an abiding indie puritanism by tossing around semi-obscure names like Burning Star Core, I’m helpless and be-goosebumped before a sweet, lilting harmony. You know where I’m heading with this. At first, I brushed Band of Horses off as another Shins knockoff who had somehow infiltrated the edges of my everyday life with a cheaply constructed, heartstring-tugging sound; after Garden State, a grip of those fuckers came out of the woodwork looking to be the next band to change Natalie Portman’s life.
The appeal on the first two Band of Horses albums -- 2006's Everything All the Time and 2007's Cease to Begin -- was the interplay of Ben Bridwell's reverb-soaked vocals and the murky guitars that swirled around him. They built up to triumphant choruses with spaced-out, moody verses. It wasn't a new sound, but it was one they did awfully well. They were a powerful rock band because they were understated.
This might be the album to introduce them to Kings of Leon-sized audiences. Will Dean 2010 With a move to Columbia from the Sub Pop label that helped spawn them, someone is wagering that the South Carolina-via-Seattle beards of Band of Horses will soon be swelling in stubbly popularity to Kings of Leon-sized proportions. Those hopes are self-evident in the tone of this album.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM “This Is Happening” (DFA) James Murphy, the semicomic force behind the one-man dance-rock band LCD Soundsystem, has loaded himself up with broad, juicy aesthetic problems. He makes the nature of those problems pretty clear, and so his records radiate with anxiety. One problem is how to transfer the magic of one form to another. He admires the slow, additive, build-up-the-vibes process of an extended dance mix or a D.J.
A debut (Everything All the Time) and sophomore smash (Cease to Begin) 19 months apart means the other flip-flop had to fall sooner or later for Band of Horses, and Infinite Arms fumbles its Birks like a weary hippie. First off Sub Pop for Sony, disc three opens in service of the sound of modern melancholy – reverbed vocals – for the ingratiating sad sackery of "Factory," which sets up the rapturous rock cascading through "Compliments." "If there's a god up in the air," sings/sighs Horse whisperer Ben Bridwell, "someone looking over everyone, at least you got something to fall back on," the song's solo lassoing "Laredo" next, straight out of the Doug Sahm songbook as covered by Hacienda. Infinite high.