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Band of Horses

Infinite Arms

[Brown Records / Fat Possum / Columbia; 2010]

By ; May 18, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

I think perhaps the first thing I should say is that Infinite Arms doesn’t quite sound like a Band of Horses album. At least not entirely like the band I became accustomed to with Everything all the Time. True, they began to smooth out their “indie rock band” factors a bit with Everything all the Time, but this is a greater step in that direction. Luckily, it turns out that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.

How things have changed is evident on the album opener “Factory”, with what boils down to an essentially beautiful melody. Band of Horses have always made what amounts to – yes, for lack of a better word – pretty music. Yet there’s none of the desperation or urgency that was present in “The First Song.” This doesn’t really turn out to be a problem. Bridwell has arguably advanced as a vocalist: his words fit into the slow glide of the song with a sharp pop sensibility. Towards the end of the track he offers what may be a mission statement for the record: “But looking back now I think it’s finally time for me to laugh about it, and get my things together and find something to say.” With this record, he certainly has.

There’s not really much of the feel from their first record remaining, none of the aggressiveness once present in tracks like “The Funeral”, and so on. The tracks tend to remain comfortably at a slow to mid pace.

Changes are evident: the band is now playing as a five-piece and it legitimately leads to a fuller sound. The band seems content to smooth out their sound into what is essentially a grand mix of Americana. Whereas once one could have easily imagined “that Band of Horses sound” in the same way one can regarding, say, Modest Mouse prior to Good News, Band of Horses have changed. The second track, “Compliments,” made this even more apparent. It’s a straight up pop rock track, and I was surprised to be strongly reminded of Under the Influence of Giants’ self-titled album (which the world seems to have missed for some reason, go get it, if you can avoid turning your nose up at it, it’s great fun.). Yet when you think about it a bit, it makes sense. Giants grab-bagged as many pop rock tricks as it could, coming off as something like the Bee Gees mixed with The Killers (who of course grabbed as much Americana as they could themselves with Sam’s Town), and now Band of Horses are seeking to do something similar.

Thing is, they’re pretty damn good at it. “Blue Beard” ranks among the very best songs they have ever produced. It’s complete with pop-ready lyrics (“Take a little time gonna roll the dice / Taken for a ride, any normal life will do, too. / Find another way, try to break the ice / Every day and night, the banana peels were true” [at least I think he’s saying true]), a soft drum pattern, and a “la la ooh” melody. It all works surprisingly well, and it’s the album’s best track.

The record occasionally returns to rushing a bit (“Northwest Apartment” perhaps most prominently), but ultimately it’s a gentle pop record. This not nearly the problem one might have imagined it’d be if they’d been told that’s what the band had been working on prior to hearing it. It’s a bit odd, but it’s as if the band is bordering on becoming annoying, but succeeding nonetheless. Occasionally the smoothness of the production can be a bit grating (take the backing vocals on “Dilly”, for example) but ultimately Infinite Arms offers up a good helping of good songs by a band caught in a period of change even if it’s a bit top-heavy. The closing track “Bartles + James” is the longest on the record, concluding with what is a bit of an overlong breakdown that isn’t quite as successful as it wants to be. Ultimately, this record works, but it leads one to worry as to whether Band of Horses will get lost trying to find the stable come next time.


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