Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Country-Rock
Someone lit a fire under Band of Horses' porch. The quintet usually specialize in beard-y reverie, somewhere between Built to Spill's guitar majesty and Seventies AM folk of America. But the Horses rough things up on Mirage Rock, from the "Brown Sugar" bounce of "Electric Music" to the crackling "Knock Knock," where Ben Bridwell sings of "a ramshackle crew with something to prove." The album was produced by Glyn Johns, who helmed classics by the Stones and Zeppelin.
BoH have a knack for seamlessly transitioning between genres, their badge of honor at this point, and on Mirage, their blend of Southern and indie rock splashed with alt-country is evolving. Bridwell’s high-register vocals, Tyler Ramsey’s heavy riffs and Creighton Barrett’s foundation-laying drums drive “Knock Knock,” an even more anthemic and complete opener than Cease to Begin’s “Is There a Ghost. ” Country influences in “How to Live” are abundant—taking note from another Johns project, The Faces—but the song doesn’t veer too far in that direction, balancing out melodic harmonies and twangy instrumentals.
“A ramshackle crew has something to prove,” sings shaggy-haired, big-hearted rock master Ben Bridwell at the outset of his band’s fourth studio album. He ain’t kidding. After the sculpted, reverb-drenched expanses of the band’s previous album, 2010’s Infinite Arms, Band of Horses aimed to get back to basics—and get their hands dirty. So they nabbed producer Glyn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who) out of retirement, tracked live as a band straight to analog tape and stumbled haphazardly upon what might be their greatest collection of songs to date.
After two albums for Sub Pop, Band of Horses made a leap towards the mainstream in 2010 on their third album (and first for a major label), Infinite Arms, which saw them upping their game in live performance and sharpening their blurry edges on record. Mirage Arms takes the process one step further. Gone is the reverb, gone are the songs about beloved dogs, and gone is the sense of a band locked away in their own world; it's hard not to think the line in the opener Knock Knock saying "a ramshackle crew has something to prove" is Ben Bridwell assessing BoH's own career after eight years.
After key Band of Horses influence Neil Young experienced his commercial peak with Harvest -- the 1972 country rock cornerstone -- he famously reflected that it had put him in the middle of the road and that he soon “headed for the ditch. ” On Mirage Rock -- the follow-up to the Ben Bridwell-fronted act’s Grammy-nominated, game-changing 2010 release, Infinite Arms -- Band of Horses keep a safe distance from the ditch with the help of producer Glyn Johns. As it happens, he’s the very man who helped the 1972-1973 period Eagles lineup hone their saccharine, radio-friendly and harmony-laden sound while Young was exploring comparatively rugged and less-traveled terrain.
During Band of Horses’ tenure at Sub Pop, frontman Ben Bridwell incorporated the occasional Americana flourish into the band’s lush indie rock, but the ratio of those two styles has completely reversed since the band made the move to a major label. Mirage Rock, Band of Horses’ second album for Columbia, pushes the band even further in the direction of roots-rock acts like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, with only a few remnants of the dreamy, outsized arrangements from early singles “The Funeral” and “The Great Salt Lake. ” Fortunately, Bridwell and producer Glyn Johns avoid many of the staid trappings that have made so many Americana acts sound ungodly dull.
You can take the songwriter out of South Carolina, but good luck trying to take South Carolina out of the songwriter. Ben Bridwell, singer and guitarist in Band of Horses, has never been reluctant to introduce a touch of country and bluegrass twang to the band’s dreamy indie rock. Yet, after relocating back to the Palmetto State a few years ago, Band of Horses’ shimmering guitar rock has grown considerably earthier.
There’s one thing you can say about Mirage Rock, Band of Horses’ fourth album, that you can not say about any of the others: It’s better than the last one. After a great debut and a very good follow-up, Infinite Arms (2010) found the band mellowing out and blanding out, even though it became their best-selling album to date. Mirage Rock offers little Ben Bridwell and company have not done before, but at least it shakes off the complacency or pandering to radio that brought down its predecessor.
Intimacy is not an exact science. You don’t want to go too over-the-top with professions of love, or it turns out schmaltzy. If you’re too aggressive, you need to shut it down, take a long walk home, and have a cold shower. But if you can find that balance — those slight nuances that make the emotion genuine, and even down to earth — then, my friend, you win the day.
Infinite Arms, Band of Horses' last album, was their first for a major label, and it found the band struggling with a new studio budget. The songs were big and slick but not terribly distinct, clearing up Ben Bridwell's usually echoed vocals and sanding down the fuzzy edge of the guitars into songs that sounded glossy and thin. It was a major step away from their first two solid records, and a record that sounded like a good band had lost its way a little bit.
As a man steeped in Americana it’s no surprise that Ben Bridwell’s career has drifted audibly across the USA. By the time Band of Horses popped into existence he’d already lived in South Carolina, Arizona, Olympia and Seattle and each seemed to have a presence in his music: countryish and homespun, but with scrappy, indie character, Iron+Wine meeting the more gnarled end of Seventies Neil Young via ELO and Pavement. It was the two sides balancing each other out that gave those early records so much character and made, say, ‘There Is a Ghost’ so compelling, setting them apart from your common or garden Fleet Foxes, your Bon Ivers and your Midlakes.
In a year of adjective-rock album titles, Mirage Rock is as telling of a descriptor as Celebration Rock. The difference is that Japandroids' intentions matched their achievements-- Celebration Rock was a winning testament to good times and good rock music at its most life-affirming. Mirage Rock, on the other hand, evokes an emptiness that couldn't have been intentional.
At this point in Band of Horses' story arc, Ben Bridwell is the sole remaining member from the days of their debut Everything All the Time, and one of only two holdovers from their breakthrough Cease to Begin. Mirage Rock is by roughly the same unit that put together the underwhelming Infinite Arms, and continues the shifts in direction that started there. .
It seems odd that Band of Horses’ influences loom so large on the group’s fourth outing. But on “Mirage Rock,” spectral visions of Neil Young, Crazy Horse, and occasional singing compatriots Crosby, Stills & Nash — as well as echoes of everyone from the Eagles to the Band — weave through the proceedings. Ben Bridwell’s voice remains a beguiling instrument in both high and low registers, and there are moments of stark beauty.
Band Of Horses may have peaked with ‘Infinite Arms’ and the way it played with pop sensibilities, but with ‘Mirage Rock’ it sounds as though they haven’t lost any of their sense of fun. Opener ‘Knock Knock’ welcomes you back to their sound with shimmering guitars and soaring vocals. Like every record this band has put out before; there are triumphant highs (‘How To Live’) thrown together with yearning lows (‘Everything’s Gonna Be Undone’).
A pleasing, if occasionally indulgent, fourth LP from the Seattle five-piece. Chris Beanland 2012 You wonder where music would be without love to inspire it. The biological impulse to breed (or not even quite that), the longing, the despair, the crushed dreams. This atomic bomb of emotions has been the spur to so many songs.
After Band of Horses stormed out of the gate in 2006 with their fuzzy, PacNW-ish acclaimed debut, Everything All The Time, it left them with little wiggle room. That album's single, "The Funeral," was everything an indie anthem could be: anthemic, melodic and dynamic, shifting between loud and soft, fast and slow, with aplomb. The band's cleaner, tighter follow-up was enjoyable despite hardly expanding on Everything's template, and their third album and major-label debut, Infinite Arms, by desperately reaching for the stars (they're right there on the album cover!), fell hard on tired clichés and cheesy bombast.