Band of Horses
Awhile back when it came time to put together a playlist of the best of 2007, there was at least one song that was an easy call for me. “Is There a Ghost?” from Band of Horses’ second album Cease to Begin had it all: loud guitars, a great build and singer Ben Bridwell’s heavily reverb-ed, otherworldly tenor. There may be only a handful of tunes on the follow-up that work the same territory and bring the same thrills, but Infinite Arms is ultimately a more complex, more rewarding and more consistent record that should win the band plenty of new fans as they tour with the likes of Pearl Jam this summer.
Band of Horses, which began their existence as a duo (Bridwell and the now departed Mat Brooke), has now emerged on the third record as a five-piece band (Bridwell is joined by drummer Creighton Barrett and multi-instrumentalists Ryan Monroe, Tyler Ramsey and Bill Reynolds). And while their previous efforts won them favorable comparisons to My Morning Jacket and Neil Young, the band’s latest will likely also appeal to fans of the more pastoral sounds of Fleet Foxes and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys.
Stellar harmonies color the lush opener “Factory.” The fact that Bridwell is singing nonsense about getting Now and Laters stuck between his teeth and falling asleep to “the greatest movie of the year” does little to mar the effect. The more rocking “Compliments” is clearly an album highlight with a killer chorus, crunchy guitars and more great harmonies. “If there’s a god up in the air / Someone looking over everyone / At least you’ve got something to fall back on,” Bridwell sings. The Neil Young-like “Laredo” follows with a fantastic, anthemic guitar line. From there, “NW Apt.” at track 11 is practically the only rocker left. But what a great one it is, bringing to mind not only “Is There a Ghost?” but also some of Arcade Fire’s finer moments.
So what happens in between the rockers? A whole lot of mysterious, mellow magic. “On My Way Back Home” with its Indian-sounding percussion may be the prettiest song the band has ever produced. I say “may be” because the spare, lap-steel-and-organ charmer “For Annabelle” provides strong competition. The title track has an acoustic vibe that brings to mind a more earthbound “Space Oddity.” “Blue Beard” weirdly recalls Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” at one point. The Ramsey-penned “Evening Kitchen” for some reason reminds me of Extreme’s “More Than Words.” It’s better than that but you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. “Dilly” is pure pop joy with neat overlapping vocals while Monroe’s Jayhawks-like “Older” is pure Americana with a sing-along, strum-along chorus. The only weak link here may be Bridwell’s set closing, Bartles-and-Jaymes-name-checking “Neighbor.” It’s a little too achingly sweet and hippy-dippy at least until it crashes headlong into a crunchy coda which nearly rescues it from forget-ability.
But by then, the band’s work is done. On Infinite Arms, Band of Horses show signs they could one day get indie rock hipsters to join hands with old-timers who enjoy Pink Floyd or The Eagles. There’s something here for everyone and with the newly expanded lineup, their future seems limitless. Band of Horses seem destined to take up space in your iTunes playlists for many years to come.
Band Of Horses: www.bandofhorses.com