A revised version of the following review appears in the June issue of Uncut.
BAND OF HORSES
Ben Bridwell’s promise is fulfilled, as the budding auteur and his handpicked band fashion a thrilling artistic breakthrough
After living with the lush melodies, breathtaking harmonies and taut instrumental performances that distinguish Infinite Arms, I no longer think of Band of Horses as another promising Amerindie band. From the very first notes of their primarily self-produced third album, it’s dramatically apparent that Ben Bridwell and company have upped the ante big time, creating a musical statement that manages to consistently hit and frequently surpass the peak moments on their previous recordings. Having relocated from
On the stunning “
There’s an intriguing further development in Bridwell’s songwriting approach, as he interweaves the elliptical verbiage of his past records with concrete detail of an intensely visual nature, these observations of everyday life hinting at storylines whose specifics are left to the listener to piece together. First track “Factory” opens in a hotel lobby, leading to brief eye contact with a stranger in the elevator, a stop at the snack machine and other mundane details that take on an air of mystery through the musical context, conjuring up the sort of hyper-reality found in William Eggleston’s photographs. The pumping strings and horns riding atop the band’s massive slow-motion groove bring an overlay of grandeur to the implied narrative – the pomp-plus-push of the arrangement redolent of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” while Bridwell’s layered vocals pause to inhale before delivering the astral lift of Bon Iver’s “Flume.” These musical and visual juxtapositions permeate the album, taking centerstage on “Northwest Apartment,” a nostalgic, atypically straightforward series of aural snapshots picturing various places where Bridwell crashed while living in
One of the album’s defining aspects is its vivid sense of the American expanse, from the close quarters of city life to the wide-open spaces. With its Pet Sounds-like contrapuntal harmonies and reverb-drenched sonics, “On My Way Home” resonates with SoCal buoyancy even as it yearns for
Infinite Arms feels like it has two halves, the first six songs serving to expand the panoramic sound and style Bridwell introduced on songs like “The Great Salt Lake” from BOH’s 2006 debut, Everything All the Time, the second half-dozen, led off by the aerodynamic power pop of Ramsey and Bridwell’s “Dilly,” is laden with wholly and co-written songs from the other players, reinforcing the sense that this is a fully interactive band. But its symmetry is just one of the reasons you’ll want to get this neoclassic landmark on vinyl. Another is that it begs to be flipped over and played again.
Q&A: Ben Bridwell
You’ve said that in many ways this is the first Band of Horses album. How so?
It’s the first time the lineup hasn’t been this revolving door. I feel like the band has really solidified itself for the first time. When I started the band and Matt [Brooke] was in it, I had some songwriting input from him. With this record it’s like a real band, no one’s goin’ anywhere and everyone’s contributing to the songwriting process. This is a band that I’m a part of now and not just leading, and this is our coming-out party to show people everybody in the band, not just my sad songs.
Your harmonies with Tyler and Ryan are really classic.
There are times when you can hear that maybe it’s not perfect, and because we were doing it live and didn’t really have anyone to judge us, I tended to feel like that was its strength and not try to make it perfect like we’ve done in the past. Like maybe those little frailties are actually the strength of the record, where it sounds like people are actually singing around a microphone.
What inspired the orchestrations of “Factory”?
I was listening to a lot of Nick Drake, for the first time really got Nick Drake. I had to hear every song, watch every bit of footage. There are such dramatic string arrangements in those songs. But I’ve also been a huge fan of Spiritualized, and I did want to go for that kind of dramatic effect in “Bittersweet Symphony.” It was very intentional, most because I was thinkin’ this might be one that people in the
Your lyrics this time are loaded with everyday detail.
In the past my lyrics were more abstract. I didn’t mean to be more to the point in these songs; they just kinda came out that way. I guess the song was askin’ for it, and that’s what I had and could speak from those experiences, so I didn’t shy away from it. But I don’t write lyrics deliberately, ever – they just kinda come. And usually I’ll edit them to death so that people have absolutely no idea what I’m talkin’ about. Maybe I decided to unmask them a little bit more.
This feels very much like an old-fashioned two-sided record.
When I approved the vinyl master the other day, I got to hear it, finally, as a piece of music, and it flows so much better as two sides. There really are two phases of the record, and the second side really does showcase the rest of the band. You get