Monday, January 7, 2013

Band Of Horses 'Mirage Rock' Brown Records/Columbia LP

I was sad to see that Band of Horses forthcoming New Zealand tour dates have been downsized from their original venues (Auckland & Wellington Town Halls to The Powerstation and St. James' Theatre respectively) but admit that I've been totally remiss in purchasing this, their latest LP, which has been out for a couple of months.

(It's a far cry from the release of their previous offering, 'Infinite Arms', which I had on pre-order on both LP and CD weeks before it came out).

That said, whilst I might be sad that they've not been able to fill those larger venues, I've seen absolutely no promotion for either show whatsoever and after the pre-LP release of a video for lead single 'Knock, Knock', it's also been quiet of late from the band themselves.

Band of Horses came into my life at the end of nearly a decade of exclusively listening to electronic music and reggae, when I saw a poster advertising a forthcoming show of theirs on the wall of the then newly refurbished Thekla nightclub in Bristol.
The poster simply featured a picture of the band (as above) and a Sub Pop records logo and I went and sought them out based on the strength of that alone. (Sub Pop, alongside Amphetamine Reptile, was perhaps the must-have label of my youth).

I was gripped by 'Is There A Ghost' and immediately bought (and became totally fanatical) about their then newly released 'Cease To Begin' LP, seeing them perform on the Thekla's tiny stage soon after.
They were phenomenal live, though regretfully I arrived too late for their dual opening solo act/lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey's set. I later bought his 'I Dreamt A Long Dream Of Swimming In The Sea' CD, which also has some great songs on it. (Check out, 'No One Goes Out Any More').
Their next offering, 'Infinite Arms' was less immediate, though I did grow to love it over time. It's clearly a more mature and country-influenced LP, with a settled line-up (previously, the band was effectively a Ben Bridwell solo project with a revolving door of collaborators) with lead vocals at points from both Ramsey and keyboardist Ryan Monroe. I saw them again in Auckland and they were just as breathtaking live on the significantly larger stage of the Powerhouse.
'Mirage Rock' kicks off with lead single 'Knock Knock' which is as catchy as anything they've recorded previously.

There's a continuing growth in the complexity of their material; 'How To Live' has possibly the most complicated vocal melody to grace a Band Of Horses track to date and 'Dumpster World' alternates between floating CSNY vocal harmonies on the verse and a jarring Alt-Rock chorus.

Ramsey makes a return to lead vocals on 'Everything's Gonna Be Undone', which isn't as affecting this time round as 'Infinite Arms' highlight track, 'Evening Kitchen' (particularly moving at the aforementioned Powerstation gig).

Immediately following is the rather stronger offering, 'Fued', which is probably their heaviest outing (note: Band Of Horses are basically an Alt-Country/Americana act, so it's not exactly Slayer) since 'Cigarettes & Wedding Bands' off of 'Cease To Begin'.

The LP closes with 'Heartbreak On The 101', which features Bridwell singing in a much lower register than his usual falsetto (oft-compared to Neil Young and Jim James of My Morning Jacket) and is something so heartworn that it could easily fit into the canon of Willie Nelson. (Interestingly, Band Of Horses recently toured with Willie Nelson by train).

Overall, on the first couple of listens, there's few songs as strong as anything off of their last couple of records (the execrable 'Dilly' off of 'Infinite Arms' aside).

I will digest it further over the course of the week before I get the opportunity to see how the songs fair up in a live-setting. 
The LP, as with their previous work (I don't actually own a physical copy of their debut 'Everything All the Time' LP but assume it's similar), is beautifully packaged, with a poster included with more of their emotive, rootsy imagery on it. (All of which suits the lived-in appeal of their music and image). 

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