Review: Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
Published on September 26th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Apologies in advance for the spate of comparisons within this review of Band of Horses’ fourth album Mirage Rock; it’s just that this particular scribe hadn’t previously spent much time listening to this particular Seattle five-piece, and the unfamiliarity with their particular brand of warmth and beauty scratched away at the ol’ cerebral cortex, flaking off the names of other musical artists.
Don’t worry, they’re all good ones.
Given that the first line of opener “Knock Knock” is “the best things come to those who wait”, perhaps Rocksucker can rewire this admitted lack of insight to make it look like a(n admittedly tenuously) thematic quirk. This song applies bouncy, breezily harmonised vocals to a fuzzy, triumphantly chugging pulse as if someone stapled The Beach Boys to Arcade Fire, and there’s even a Beatles-circa-Revolver fade-out at the end. Excellent start, all in all.
“How to Live” walks an almost country-ish Big Star swagger into an exquisite, almost unbearably subtle chorus progression worthy of Phantom Power-era Super Furry Animals or Howdy!-era Teenage Fanclub (and whatever some folk may have you believe, Howdy! is a sodding marvelous record).
“Slow Cruel Hands of Time” takes that Big Star jangly breeze and channels it through Paul Simon in urban folk mode (“No street lamps / Only three buildings, and one of them’s vacant”), “A Little Biblical” is such a sublime arrangement of light and shade that it’s easy to forgive its slight borrow from The Beatles’ “Real Love” on the line (“I’m old enough to know / I’m holding onto something”), while “Shut-In Tourist” is like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” filtered through The Byrds; its refrain of “So I repeat what you said” becomes, er, repeated, and remains so as a different vocal part is looped to quite dazzling effect behind it. It’s pretty masterful stuff.
“Dumpster World” brings to mind a smoky, late-night jazz version of Neil Young, that is until about a third of the way through, when it turns into Weezer back when Weezer were good. Then it reverts to jazz-Young; niccce. Despite the continued onslaught of remind-me-ofs, Band of Horses forge a sound of their own, taking on more Rolling Stones-y elements on “Electric Music” before laying itself bare on the swoonsome, flute-accompanied “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone”, one of those rare songs that’s arrestingly gentle enough to pull off harmonised hums.
“Feud” returns to the fuzzy chugging pulse of “Knock Knock”, so luxuriously decorated it is too by its lyrically dancing vocals, while the Lennonish lament of “Long Vows” proclaims “You’ve got me where you want me”, a reference to control reflective of the total hold its pedal steel and Neil Young harmonies are liable to have on the listen.
Is someone else taking the lead vocal on closing track “Heartbreak on the 101”? It’s a lower, smokier register than that handles all the other songs on Mirage Rock, and the rare absence of heaped harmonies brings it boldly up in the mix. Throw in some wonderful string arrangements and an all-round divinity that recalls all of Pulp, Bright Eyes, Stephen Malkmus and The Flaming Lips, and…well, the deal is sealed.
This writer is assured that Mirage Rock constitutes a return to form for Band of Horses, specifically that their second album is ace and the third one not so, and this review was set to end on that note until the clouds outside started to spell out the word ‘shirker’. As such…
*listen listen listen*
*listen listen listen*
Well well well. At the risk of incurring accusations of wilful contrariness, this writer (a.k.a. “me”, “I”) much prefers 2010’s Infinite Arms to 2007’s Cease to Begin. Just goes to show, eh?
Anyway, for Mirage Rock…
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Mirage Rock is out now on Columbia. For more information, please visit www.bandofhorses.com