Published on September 13th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann0
CD Review: Band of Horses
Band of Horses
Mirage Rock (Brown/Columbia)
A few years ago, one could easily tag the Band of Horses as a guitar-driven indie rock act. With the release of the 11-song Mirage Rock, their fourth studio album in seven years, frontman Ben Bridwell and his troupe are far less easy to categorize these days.
On their previous efforts, Bridwell and his team of musicians — guitarist Tyler Ramsey, drummer Creighton Barrett, bassist Bill Reynolds, and keyboardist Ryan Monroe — recorded full-band versions of Bridwell’s compositions in familiar studios in Alabama and the Carolinas (most of them with Asheville, N.C.-based producer Phil Ek). With Mirage Rock, they ventured out to the legendary Sunset Sound facility in Los Angeles and hired acclaimed producer and engineer Glyn Johns to produce the new collection.
Johns has been a revered and respected rock studio man for decades. He handled the production of classic works by the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Steve Miller Band, Eric Clapton, and the Who. In recent years, he’s produced an array of modern pop, rock, and roots acts.
Johns and the band kept the instrumentation and sound quality pretty raw and organic on Mirage Rock. It’s a moody album of two halves, split between big, amped-up rockers and quieted-down acoustic anthems and ballads. With a sturdy beat and multiple guitars, the kick-off song “Knock Knock” is deceptively rockin’ and in the same vein as the most rambunctious stuff on 2010’s Infinite Arms. But Bridwell and the guys go in new directions right away.
The groovy mid-tempo “How to Live” could easily fit on a classic Eagles or Jackson Browne album. “Electric Music” might remind the listener of the twangy pop songs on early R.E.M. B-sides (if Keith Richards added a few bluesy rhythm guitar licks). With it’s chiming chords and chugging 4/4 rock rhythm, “Feud” is one of the few tracks that resembles the initial rockisms of the Horses’ earlier work.
Bridwell’s high-toned singing and extra two- and three-part harmonies permeate mellow, acoustic-based numbers like “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” and “Shut-In Tourist.” His trembling soprano on the drowsy, slow-swingin’ “Long Vows” sounds very Neil Young. The elegant and melancholic “Heartbreak on the 101” features Bridwell singing verses within his low-end range. It’s the opposite end of the emotional and tonal spectrum — raspy, croaky, beaten but not quite defeated.
“Dumpster World” manages to touch on both side of Mirage Rock‘s split personality. One of the more jarring moments of the album comes in the middle of the song, which starts out with breezy, brushy, Crosby Stills & Nash-style folk-pop feel before suddenly shifting into a loud and lumbering sludge-rock chorus.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” perhaps the catchiest song of the acoustic bunch, features Tyler Ramsey on the lead vocals (singing the low melody) with tasteful backups from Bridwell (singing high harmony).
Overall, Mirage Rock is a compelling, honest, stripped-down, folksy effort. Musically, the band comes off as a unified team. Bridwell seems much more at ease and confident as a lyricist and singer. It’s a step in a cool new direction.
Look for copies of Mirage Rock in local record stores on Tues. Sept. 18. Band of Horses will be on tour through the Southeast and Midwest this fall before heading to Europe and the U.K. in November.
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