BAND OF HORSES - INFINITE ARMS
Band Of Horses have come a long way in the last seven years or so. Formed circa 2004 in Seattle by South Carolina native Ben Bridwell and his friend Mat Brooke , early promise saw them land a deal with that fine city's most famous label Sub Pop.
Two albums, "Everything All The Time" and "Cease To Begin" followed fairly quickly (Brooke left after the former and formed his own band Grand Archives) and some amazing live shows helped cement their reputation. Along the way they also found time to gather up a pretty fanatical group of followers. I well remember my first introduction to the band when i saw them on TV performing live at the Glastonbury festival, it was an amazing show but what also caught my attention was the crowd, my jaw dropped when the BBC cameras panned 'round to reveal punters dancing along merrily with large papier-mâché horses heads on ! It was a surreal sight and i've pretty much been hooked ever since.
There have been a good few changes since then and band mates have come and gone along the way, Ben Bridwell being the only remaining founder member. At the moment the current line-up seems pretty solid and they've also re-located operations back to South Carolina and signed to Columbia Records for their third album "Infinite Arms", an outstanding release which was not only a firm contender for 2010's Album Of The Year crown but was also Grammy nominated. It lost out to "Brothers" by The Black Keys, another fine album. But that's for another day, for now we concentrate on the matter at hand - "Infinite Arms".
On the first few plays, what leaps out at you are the influences. The band wear theirs proudly on their sleeves and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, especially when you take them and mould them into something fresh , new and exciting. What it all adds up to is a very modern take on what can really only be described as Americana, indeed it's as close as anyone has come to that mythical "Cosmic American Music'" as envisioned by Gram Parsons all those years ago. That's a weighty term but it's one which Band Of Horses bear with ease.
For me anyway, there are strong echoes here of the likes of The Band, The Beach Boys (Brother Records period) and Neil Young/Crazy Horse. Also, musically, there's a delicious cross-pollination of styles and indeed genres going on here : Rock, Folk, Power- Pop and, maybe best of all, a healthy dollop of Country on top. Sweet melodies, lush arrangements and love-lorn vocals abound, it all adds up to something special indeed.
Lyrically it's crafty as well, fragments, gentle-nudges in the direction of the tale for the most part. Often, the listener gets just an idea of what's happening and is left to piece it together, fill in the blanks on their own. This is a big part of what makes the record intriguing and keeps you coming back to it.
The overall excellence makes it hard to select highlights but i'm fond of these ones:
Bluebeard / exquisite harmonies and backing vocals are the making of this track, it's almost a tribute to "Sunflower" -era Beach Boys. The end section is flawless and makes a great song even better.
Evening Kitchen / A sparse folky number, gorgeous effort with a wonderful double vocal and an infectious guitar hook.
Laredo / This one's very much in Crazy Horse mode, it fairly struts along, catchy as hell and a real contender for best track on the album.
Older / This is a beauty. Written and sung by keyboard player Ryan Monroe, it's laid-back number, sounding somewhat like a mellow Flying Burritto Brothers if they had Carl Wilson making a cameo appearance on the mic ! Utterly sublime.
NW Apartment / ferocious, driving guitar on this, pounding drums and lyrical postcards from various locations.
Although the album is a real team effort by the band it would be remiss not to mention the immense input of Ben Bridwell, he's the lead singer and main songwriter and he turns in a superb showing on this one, he's getting better with each release and if that keeps up the next album will be mind-blowing.
It all sounds thoroughly modern and bang up to date due to the excellent production but also, firmly rooted in the past, there's a heart to this music that can mainly be found in ancient tradition, there's also timeless music, expansive and wide-reaching.
Americana in it's very best form.