Friday, October 26, 2012

Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
Sub-Pop, 2006
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $3

It’s a bittersweet experience listening to Band of Horses gorgeous first album considering the steady decline in quality of their albums over the years. Sadly, the best metaphor I can think of compares the band to film director M Night Shyamalan, and while they haven’t made a record as bad as The Happening, the rote work quality of their latest LP Mirage Rock make me think there’s some big sellout around the corner. They’ll find some way to water down their sound to garner the largest possible audience share and then it’ll all be over. Good on Ben Bridwell riding the wave of popularity to a deal with Columbia that lets him run his own label and one can only assume a pretty comfortable life from here on out (at least the royalty checks will keep rolling in every time “The Great Salt Lake” gets played in some televised teenage melodrama). Certainly not very rich, but you know, the sort of decent living that anyone wants. I don’t fault Band of Horses for that, because it’s easy enough to just quit listening to a band once they abandon all the things that made you like them in the first place. It just stings when you’re hopes got set so high. Where you looked forward to a solid ten or fifteen years of quality records and it didn’t quite pan out.

The fundamental thing that makes Everything All the Time work so well is that there is nothing at stake. Carissa’s Wierd had recently broken up and Bridwell and Mat Brooke formed Band of Horses seemingly out of inertia (granted, it was basically Bridwell’s band). There’s a purity at work on this album that just feels so organic and loose. You can’t fake that, and I feel like that’s what happened after this album became such a huge hit. Brooke left the band after the breakout, which was terrifically sad since his two contributions to the record “I Go Out to the Barn Because I Like the” and the show-stopping closing track “St. Augustine” are two of the best songs on the album. They add an emotional depth that’s not necessarily any deeper than Bridwell’s own, but contrasts in a really fantastic way. I used to like to cite Brooke’s departure as the reason why I lost interest, but that’s not true. Bridwell’s songs are the reason this album works, and they’re really, really goddamn good.

Pulling off an album with a distinct sound yet with enough diversity in the songwriting is a trick in the repertoire of any great musician, and that is the great strength of this album. There’s the almost spooky sounding rocker “Wicked Gil,” the ethereal and instantly gripping opener “The First Song,” the grandiose surefire hit “The Funeral,” the aforementioned TV staple that is also likely one of the best indie rock songs of the 00s/a song that’s going to go right up with Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1” when they make the definitive list someday “The Great Salt Lake,” the silly and joyous “Weed Party” and the emotional nail in the coffin, Bridwell’s masterpiece penultimate track “Monsters.” And then that duet with Brooke “St. Augustine” at the very end. It’s an album that invites re-listening, one that all too easily found itself in my car stereo for the better part of three months. And it holds up incredibly well.

I wanted to like Infinite Arms and Mirage Rock. I came at them with an open mind, and the more I think about it the more I realize that Band of Horses sophomore LP Cease to Begin was actually pretty good (so was Unbreakable following up The Sixth Sense). The last two albums just lack the spark that drew me to their music in the first place. It was sensitive beards-and-flannel-shirt rock and I could definitely get down with that. And though Bridwell still rocks the beard, his band just doesn’t rock. I’ll still hold out hope for a return to form because I know it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility. 

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