So you’re looking for some excellent indie/beard rock to help smooth the transition back to Fall after a Summer of pop inanity? You’ve come to the right place my friend. Although I must warn you, you could fall into one of two very different camps: To those new to Band of Horses and open to a little retro-70s Americana, you are in luck, because this album is chock-full, and to those longtime BoH fans who’ve worn down their record needles on the first three LPs, well, you might take a little convincing.
The Horses, who hail from Seattle and started back in 2004 by Ben Bridwell and Co., have built an incredible following by letting their influences bleed through every note of their music, and staying true to their roots. Their organic throwback vibe makes them stand out in a wasteland where everyone else is just trying to burn out bright. The bearded quintet seems content to just play music that they would have enjoyed listening to on their fathers’ record players, and they do it quite well.
Their first two albums, Everything All the Time and Cease to Begin feature haunting harmonies and gorgeous throwback melodies, with tunes like “The Funeral” and “Is There A Ghost,” and their third album, Infinite Arms earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album. This time around, the Horses enlisted the help of producer, Glyn Johns, who has worked with everyone from the Who and the Stones, to the Beatles, who helped them reign in more of an alt-country/Americana vibe.
While Infinite Arms was an immediately accessible album, that brought to mind warm summer harmonies a la the Beach Boys, Mirage Rock takes a few more spins to really grab hold of and appreciate. The first track and first single “Knock Knock” gallops out the gate with fuzzy guitars and “woo-oohs” and makes for great radio play, but is a far cry from anything on their last three albums. Bridwell says it best in his own lyrics, when he sings “There’s no time to be reserved or safe” and it seems to add a sense of urgency to a usually mellow crew. You can check the Wes Anderson-esque video for the single here.
From there, the album canters, sprints, and changes pace all over the place, leaving the listener a bit confused, but still wanting to go deeper. With the help of Glyn Johns, Bridwell goes headfirst into Neil Young territory on beautiful yearning tracks like “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” and the delicately picked “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” then they do their best “Horse With No Name” impression on the first half of “Dumpster World” before launching into uncharted distortion for the last two minutes. Raw and aggressive, Johns assisted the band in truly capturing a live sound that is real and gritty, but also extremely talented.
With Bridwell’s crackling falsetto and the band’s atmospheric groove, you often miss out on some excellent lyrics that take three or four go-rounds to really catch. On “How To Live,” he sings of the enormous weight truth carries and how “the tiniest lie gets a little bit larger everyday and it grows until it’s out of control.” Then on “A Little Biblical,” Ben’s message about simplicity and appreciation for what we have rings true, and warns of having to build a new world because “we broke the last one apart and put it back together, it didn’t matter.”
Mirage Rock is definitely a team effort this time around. The current lineup is the longest running in the band’s short history, and all members share writing credits. Bridwell even shares the mic on the album closer, “Heartbreak on the 101″ as guitarist Tyler Ramsey sings over half of the tune himself. The ragged but beautiful track is emotional and raw, and features some of the most growth we’ve seen of the Horses thus far. As a whole, it might not be their best or most cohesive disc, but it shows a lot of hope for their future, and no one will be able to accuse them of growing stagnant.