After 16 months of recording, the Charleston-based indie group Band of Horses released their new album Mirage Rock on Sept. 18, with much anticipation from critics and fans around the globe. Possessing a certain alt-country and Southern rock feel that could definitely be expected following their last release, Infinite Arms, this album delves even further into the twangy depths of the western abyss.
There is no arguing that there are two eras of Band of Horses. The first two full-length albums, Everything all the Time and Cease to Begin, feel as though they belong on the southern coasts surrounded by live oaks and Spanish moss, while the last two releases have much more western, Americana qualities.
“A ramshackle crew with something to prove” is a line from their debut single, “Knock Knock,” that resonates and is slightly ironic given the lackluster nature of their previous effort. The track features repeated guitars throughout the song accompanied by falsetto “ooh oohs” and an always catchy chorus. This song is a highlight on the album and fit for a road trip, with the windows down.
Ben Bridwell (lead vocals) deviates from the usual soaring guitars and goes with a more acoustic arrangement with “Slow Cruel Hands of Time.” The song has a slow and melancholy tune with beautiful harmonies while the lyrics reminisce of high school memories. Although it is prevalent throughout most of the album, “Slow Cruel Hands” makes the resemblance between Bridwell’s voice and that of Neil Young’s evident.
Band of Horses brought 70-year old producer Glyn Johns (producer for Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones) out of retirement for Mirage Rock. His classic rock influence is especially visible in “Electric Music,” which possesses the rhythm of what sounds like an Eagle’s hit and a guitar solo directly from the 70’s. The classic, southern rock influences are strong as well.
Johns isn’t the only one besides Bridwell influencing the style of Mirage Rock, as other members of the band also collaborate. “Everything is Gonna be Undone” was written by guitarist Tyler Ramsey and has a different style. The track presents itself as an old, folky tune with a steady tambourine accompanied by the strum of a mandolin and guitar. With Ramsey and Bridwell harmonizing throughout the song, it sounds as if it was pulled from the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.
While some of the album is catchy and easy to listen to, much of it is not. Mirage’s “Dumpster World” contains ridiculous lyrics while speaking of a bleak-looking future of the world. The song also has two different tracks mashed together, alternating between slow strumming and abrasive power cords. “Heartbreak 101” is drab as well, with Ramsey spitting out lyrics that don’t come close to rhyming. The song speaks about how Ramsey is crying under a bridge with bums after having his heart broken. The song skims the surface of his sad situations and does nothing to provide any real insight. These songs pale in comparison to the worst song on the album, “Shut-In Tourist”. With a chorus that echoes endlessly, it is, quite frankly, annoying.
Overall, the album doesn’t touch the group’s early material and is the worst Band of Horses effort since Everything all the Time. What makes the difference is the lack of high energy guitars and soaring Bridwell vocals doused in reverb added with an influx of slower, uncharacteristic material.
Band of Horses has had some great music in the past, but unfortunately the majority of Mirage Rock does not fall in that category.