Release Date: Aug 9, 2011
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
When The Horrors dropped Primary Colors two years ago, it was the very definition of a breakthrough success. It picked up a nomination for the Mercury Prize, and found its way onto many critics’ 2009 year-end lists, including our own. But if that album was a breakthrough, then Skying cements the band as a major force in modern music, and captures their unstoppable growth, too.
It remains somewhat confounding to me that shoegaze has been able to maintain popularity through all these years. The genre always seemed earmarked to become a mere footnote fad in the great colossus that is pop culture, mainly because it never seemed prone to versatility. Yet here we are in 2011 and at least a couple of bands a year enter their hat into the shoegaze ring--often to great effect.
Skying boasts a song called “Moving Further Away,” and that’s exactly what the Horrors do on their third album. Neither a return to Strange House's goth-punk nor a simple continuation of Primary Colours' acclaimed Krautrock/shoegaze fusion, this time the band sets the dials of its way-back machine for the mid- and late ‘80s, sampling post-punk luminaries such as Echo & the Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs, and Simple Minds as well as the era’s baggy trend. Yet somehow the Horrors' chameleon act seems more cohesive and convincing -- or perhaps it’s just less shocking to hear them give their music another complete makeover.
Skying, the third proper LP from the U.K.‘s celebrated-then-maligned-then-celebrated-again Horrors, is named after a tape technique commonly used on early psychedelic rock records, a layering trick that allowed producers to drench songs in a whooshing, astral haze before the invention of the phaser. Skying‘s sound is derived more from the jangle and hum of ‘80s Cure and ‘90s My Bloody Valentine than ‘60s anything, but the name is nonetheless fitting. The hypnotic pulse of opening track “Changing the Rain,” which recalls the Cocteau Twins at their stateliest, sets the tone for the forays into expansive, impressionist rock that follow.
On their third album, Skying, The Horrors have completely shed all the goth trappings that originally defined them. While their sophomore album, Primary Colours, was a bold step out of the gloom with its shoegaze textures and Krautrock rhythms, Skying sounds like an entirely different band. True to its title, Skying embraces a Technicolor, wall-of-sound grandeur.
Many bands must ponder this exact question: after being chosen as British indie’s new hope, how do you apply yourself in terms of aligning a musical career? The Horrors couldn’t be any less attractive: a couple of Southend-on-Sea misfits firing an aggressive redefinition of 60’s garage with posh leather jackets and outlandish black clad eyes. At the time, it could’ve been a response to the landfill of pretty boys and their pop-inflected, flimsy punk attitude. Oddly enough, The Horrors had become the solution for clearing a landfill of savvy punk acts – they graced the cover of NME without even one proper release, noted by their pallid image and backwards thinking gothabilly.
In his new book, Retromania, the critic Simon Reynolds revisits his damning mid-80s coinage "record collection rock". Inspired by the relentless forward march of post-punk, the young Reynolds was sceptical of bands such as Primal Scream or Spacemen 3, who waved their influences like a flag: "music," as he once defined it, "where the listener's knowledge of prior rock music is integral to the full aesthetic appreciation of the record." It's a nice concept, but one that's in the eye of the beholder. If a band have a broad enough spectrum of influences and adapt or combine them in clever, compelling ways, then an audience not necessarily versed in those influences will take them at face value.
Ah, 2007. Landfill indie is swilling Carlsberg round its gob in a beige dressing room. Doltish dead-eyed gothed-up FAKES The Horrors have barged in and set up (Top)shop right beside them. At this point, whether through trying too hard or not hard enough, The Horrors are to many - this writer included - a shower of ludicrous bell-ends.
There’s nothing like sticking it to your naysayers. After being dropped from their record label and written off by critics, [a]The Horrors[/a] had two options: they could have sacked off the music industry and cried blackened tears over their deliriously large record collections, or they could have forged an up-yours retort in the red-hot fires of something-to-prove. [b]‘Primary Colours’[/b] was, of course, the latter, an evolution which saw the Southend band embrace post-punk romanticism, string themselves out on shoegaze and come up with the shock of the, ahem, [b]Neu![/b].
It must be hard for a young British band growing up as NME darlings, but the Horrors seem to have handled it all rather well. They made the cover of the magazine in 2006 before having even released an EP, presumably on the strength of their black cotton-candy haircuts and their media connections. And they debuted first single "Sheena Is a Parasite" with an equally uncommon assist from director Chris Cunningham, who had previously done his unsettling, special effects heavy work for more musical outliers such as Aphex Twin and Autechre.
At first blush, the Horrors represent precisely the type of British band that Americans have never truly embraced or even understood. It’s a fate that has befallen some of Britpop’s best and brightest to varying degrees, from Suede to Pulp to Manic Street Preachers. Some of that has to do with the way British music rag hype gets lost in translation on the way over to the other side of the Atlantic: Sure, maybe an up-and-coming blogosphere darling might get its fair share of love online in the States, but how many land a Rolling Stone cover before it’s accomplished much of anything, which is sorta equivalent to what happened to the Horrors when they found themselves on the front of NME—and were then mocked for it afterwards.
THE HORRORS play Lee’s Palace September 27. See listing Rating: NNN Considering the giant stylistic leap the Horrors took between their first two albums - garage rock to propulsive drones - it's not surprising that they've changed their sound again. On Skying, the English five-piece play with synthesizers, backward guitars and danceable beats that result in an album that's like an amalgamation of some of the best British music from the 80s and 90s.
From garage-punks to national treasures in waiting, The Horrors’ rise is remarkable. Mike Diver 2011 The Horrors know all about deceptive appearances. Their mid-00s emergence saw the music press in a lather, hype peaking with inevitable derision creeping forth from (perhaps rightly) cynical corners of the blogosphere. Garage-punk squall, a look (and sound) that was half-Birthday Party, half-Cramps, undertones of something decidedly goth: while the Southend-spawned band presented a great-looking package, the style-over-substance accusers were many.
It’s always been easy to naysay the Horrors. All it took was a quick look: the origins as a flavor-of-the-week London garage band, the debut album that showed just enough promise to stir up some hype but not enough to indicate that the hype would be satisfied, the gothy-looking band members who dressed like they had just lost out to Johnny Depp for the role of Edward Scissorhands. These were all red flags that the band could fizzle out after a short stint in the limelight.