Here is a band that stands at a very pivotal point in their career – with their fourth album Band Of Horses could have stormed the arenas with a grandiose effort or flopped in an attempt to rekindle their roots.
Instead they do neither, and it’s probably for the best. With Mirage Rock they haven’t moved on in huge leaps from their previous effort Infinite Arms. They still deal out the folk, Americana and indie in equal spades. It’s a pleasing sound and will warm the hearts of fans but won’t push them beyond on the popularity of the last album in the way a band like The Black Keys has.
‘Slow Cruel Hands Of Time’ plays on the softly picked guitars with quivering electric strums and is the pick of the tracks on first listen. All over this album the melodic harmonised vocals still remain, but the flow early on in the album is slightly faltering. ‘How To Live’ and ‘Shut-in Tourist’ are fine examples of songs which can easily pass you by. Lyrically they fall short of Ben Bridwell’s previous standards; while the latter of the two songs lingers too long on one catchy hook and a fidgety noise in the background of a sonically altered guitar.
The second half of the album however totally recovers the failings of the opening half. ‘Dumpster World’ and ‘Heartbreak On The 101’ reveal themselves to be the “something new” for this album. ‘Dumpster World’ plays on a laid back bass line and hushed vocals of “I hit rock bottom, I’m getting old” only to burst into solid rock, booming for everyone to “bring on the booze” and “bust out the drugs”. ‘Heartbreak On The 101’ on the other hand crackles with a broken heart. It’s audible in the gravel of the opening verses, a sound quite unusual coming from Bridwell. Across the course of the song, as he delves into the damage, his voice moves effortlessly into his signature high melodies. “Heartbreak on the 101, everybody’s watching” is possibly the most simple, yet gut-wrenching line in a song to be heard this year.
There are of course the standard Band Of Horses songs which are brilliant in and of themselves, the forward footing of ‘Feud’ and the feel good imagery of the American scenery in ‘Electric Music’. First single ‘Knock Knock’ does as a single should, with howling vocals and a breeze flowing in the distorted guitar, perfect for a driving song.
It is really the intelligent composition and the simple steps they have taken, predominantly on the second half of the album, which will see this band rumble on without much complaint. A stark contrast from their debut album ‘Everything All The Time’ six years ago but a beautiful one, where every inch of the musical evolution can be traced; as natural as the American countryside itself.