Band of Horses
Mirage Rock - BROWN/COLUMBIA
FILTER Grade: 87%
By Fred Frodus on September 19, 2012
2010 was a landmark year for Band of Horses. The Carolinans released their third album (and first for a major label), Infinite Arms, which topped numerous best-of lists and also snagged a Grammy nomination for Alternative Album of the Year, cementing their crossover from indie beloveds to, simply, a big, awesome American rock and roll band. Ben Bridwell had also cemented his band’s lineup and fully embraced his love of rural Americana songsmiths like JJ Cale and Townes Van Zandt, resulting in more genuinely gorgeous, harmonizing slow-movers than ever before. But despite all the love, some sticklers bemoaned the growing number of patient, pretty songs in place of uptempo burners like “Wicked Gil” or “Islands on the Coast.” So, then, the band’s next move, Mirage Rock, should make everybody happy: it’s just as elegant as anything in their catalog, but now with more ass-kicking. Toss in the fact that behind the boards is legendary engineer and 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Glyn Johns (Sticky Fingers, “You Really Got Me,” Led Zeppelin, “Baba O’Riley”) and baby, you’ve got a stew going.
BoH have a knack for seamlessly transitioning between genres, their badge of honor at this point, and on Mirage, their blend of Southern and indie rock splashed with alt-country is evolving. Bridwell’s high-register vocals, Tyler Ramsey’s heavy riffs and Creighton Barrett’s foundation-laying drums drive “Knock Knock,” an even more anthemic and complete opener than Cease to Begin’s “Is There a Ghost.” Country influences in “How to Live” are abundant—taking note from another Johns project, The Faces—but the song doesn’t veer too far in that direction, balancing out melodic harmonies and twangy instrumentals. “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” and “Shut-in Tourist” slow the pace while allowing room for Bridwell’s voice—perhaps the band’s true hallmark—to shine, but “Electric Music,” a Stones-quality ripper showing Johns’ deft ear, and “Feud,” a tune faster and harder than anything they’ve written, bring back the speed. The swingin’-turns-sludgy riffing and world-weary laments of “Dumpster World” is their weirdest moment in four albums but still finds a way to deliver, and album closer “Heartbreak on the 101” makes room for strings and three sweeping, gravel-to-grand movements of Bridwell’s soaring vocals. These two songs in particular leave us with the ultimate lesson of Mirage Rock: After four triumphant releases, and no matter where they go, it’s clear we can trust Band of Horses, one of America’s biggest and best rock and roll bands, to deliver.