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Band Of Horses

Post-FLYING BURRITO BROS/pre-FLEET FOXES indie/dream-pop exponents, led by Ben Bridwell, the rootsy BAND OF HORSES have been one of the success stories since surfacing on Sub Pop Records in the mid-00s. From the NorthWest city of Seattle, Washington, where reverb-rife vocals and multi-instrumentalist talent has always been buoyant (aka the home of grunge), BoH, and all who initially sailed with her, possess the panache to keep running for a very long time.
Formerly the core of chamber-pop combo CARISSA’S WIERD, who’d put together a handful of post-millennium sets for Ben’s Brown Records and Sad Robot (plus a single for Sub Pop), Bridwell and the equally ambitious songsmith Mat Brooke (vocals, guitar) pieced together the first incarnation of BAND OF HORSES, in 2004; bassist Chris Early and drummer Tim Meinig augmented their first release – the self-released eponymous tour demo.
Substituting Meinig for ex-CARISSA’S WIERD associate Sera Cahoone halfway through the cutting of their acclaimed Sup Pop debut, EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME (2006) {*8}, a shelved “November 16th” project had now been black-balled. Marked out by one the classic indie songs of the decade, `The Funeral’ (dynamic as it was blissful), the set crossed into territory not heard for decades: The BEACH BOYS, CRAZY HORSE, JON ANDERSON and the C-86 phenomenon came to mind. Awash with wondrous warbles of infinite beauty, `The First Song’ (an appropriate opener), `For Wicked Gil’, the country-esque `Part One’, the twang-y back-porch `Monsters’ and the murkier `The Great Salt Lake’, came up trumps as BoH became the year’s most promising turns.
Then, sadly, almost immediately, the balloon burst, as all but Bridwell leaving the party: Brooke formed Sub Pop-signed act GRAND ARCHIVES; Cahoone went solo. Left to his own devices, BB duly acquired the help of Rob Hampton (guitar, bass), Creighton Barrett (drums) and guest, at first, Ryan Monroe (keyboards), to fulfil gigs and commitments on the continent. On their return they relocating to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina; Ben was born in nearby Irmo.
Re-enlisting producer Phil Ek for sophomore set, CEASE TO BEGIN (2007) {*8}, BoH were fast becoming rivals to MY MORNING JACKET, ARCADE FIRE and The DECEMBERISTS. Their campfire singalongs, Ben’s high-end vox and an indie-rock ethos had endeared them to an American audience, whose love of the upbeat `Islands On The Coast’, the moody `No One’s Gonna Love You’ and the dark `Is There A Ghost’, registered them a Top 40 place. And while there were diversions into the twang (`Marry Song’) and grunge (`Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’), the set’s most interesting and historical piece concerned that of three-point German-born basketball player `Detlef Schrempf’.
A switch to Columbia (via Fat Possum and the aforementioned Brown Records), and dual replacements for Hampton, in Tyler Ramsey (guitar) and Bill Reynolds (bass, guitar) – plus the group upgrade to Ryan Monroe – all actions guaranteed a tighter, 5-piece sound for the long-awaited third set, INFINITE ARMS (2010) {*7}. Top 10 in North America and opening their chart account in Britain (at #21), soft-rock exponents BAND OF HORSES were finally cantering toward their canyon of dreams. Drawing comparisons to the folkier FLEET FOXES and The BEACH BOYS, many pundits would be impressed with the first half of the record (`Laredo’, `Blue Beard’ and `On My Way Back Home’ ticking all the right boxes), although the cool, cinematic effect of the latter half – the rockier `NW Apt’ the exception – showed up a few cracks.
Subsequently working with producer Glyn Johns, the transatlantic Top 20 fourth album, MIRAGE ROCK (2012) {*7} was another that divided the opinions of the press. For some, the epitome of 70s blue-jean country-rock a la EAGLES, CSN&Y and AMERICA (e.g. `How To Live’, `Slow Cruel Hands Of Time’ and `A Little Biblical’), for others, tame in comparison to breakthrough indie-roots acts FLEET FOXES and BON IVER, Ben’s BoH were struggling to get over/off the fences. Weighing up the pros and cons, the quintet were stuck between a rock and a “soft-rock” place on the likes of the swampy `Electric Music’, the grinding `Feud’ and the opening salvo `Knock Knock’.
Slow-burning their way to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium the following April, the sentiment and spirit of their songs were in evidence on their self-financed ACOUSTIC AT THE RYMAN {*7}; released in February 2014. Highlighting their greatest hit, `The Funeral’, and their cosmic country cut `Older’ (from “Infinite Arms”), an unplugged BAND OF HORSES triggered some mighty clappin’ and a-hollerin’.
In summer 2015, Bridwell teamed up with IRON AND WINE (i.e. Sam Beam) for the `Sing Into My Mouth’ covers set, while, in the meantime, major trainers Interscope and Rick Rubin’s American Records had dangled the carrot to tempt Ben’s thoroughbreds to their corporate stables. Co-produced by GRANDADDY’s Jason Lytle, 2016’s WHY ARE YOU OK {*7} was yet another to cast a shadow over their sonic-meets-dad-rock aspirations. Decreasing Top 20 sales (Top 40 UK) disguised the fact that there were moments of grandeur among the game of two halves: the glorious side one contained the cascading `Hag’, the RED HOUSE PAINTERS-meets-JANE’S ADDICTION-esque 7-minute opening segue `Dull Times – The Moon’, and the J MASCIS-addled high spot, `In A Drawer’. Pointers to their future – one can only pray.
© MC Strong/MCS Jun2016

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