BAND OF HORSES: EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME (2006)
Band Of Horses is basically the brainchild of Ben Bridwell, a guy who formerly used to sell pizza in Tucson, Arizona, but, over a period of ten years, went on to be selling loud indie-pop music to... well, honestly, I have no idea who exactly is buying his albums, but supposedly, there is very little overlap between his current customers and his old ones.
In between these two extremes, he also played drums and wrote some songs for a little-known «sadcore» outfit called Carissa's Wierd (sic), hanging around Seattle; once that institution (the band, not Seattle) collapsed, he learned to play himself some guitar and, taking some old friends and some new discoveries along for his own personal project, formed Band Of Horses. The lineup here, beyond Bridwell himself, includes Mat Brooke on second guitar, Chris Early on bass, and Tim Meinig on drums — simple to the indiest.
Although the band was formally inaugurated in Seattle, Bridwell himself is an obstinate Caroliner, and one could expect the final result to sound like a synthesis of Piedmont blues with grunge — which, come to think of it, could be fun. In all actuality, the music sounds more like a synthesis of... umm, let's say James Taylor, Brian Wilson, U2, and Wayne Coyne's Flaming Lips. In other words, baroque arena-roots-rock with a decidedly modernistic sensibility. Get that?
Let us begin with what prevents Band of Horses from greatness. First, a common thing with the indie crowd — instrumental-wise, the playing throughout is «accomplished», nothing more. Apparently, Bridwell was learning to play guitar at the same time as he was assembling the band, and although he did an impressive job in such a brief period, the man is certainly not the one to be revolutionizing this, or any other, instrument any time soon. For that matter, the most professional playing on the entire album comes from... the drummer, and even that may be just an illusionary effect of his trying out more stylistic variety than the others.
Second, all of the vocals are recorded with a faraway echo effect. Now this may just be one of those Nashville-inflicted things — them country singers like you to picture them as the ride-out-of-the-sunset type — or it may be an artsy Bono-type thing — them arena-rockers like you to perceive them as the as the stroll-out-of-the-clouds type — but whatever be the true grounds behind this, it always creates at least a small wall of alienation between the artist and the listener, and what sort of artist (counting out Bono himself) should want to alienate his listeners on his very first album? Not a good move.
Third, they chose 'The Funeral' as the lead single, singing it on Letterman and then syndicating it to something like a couple dozen movies and TV shows. Why? Just because it is the album's «grandest» and most blatantly «tragic» song? Or because it was a subtle attempt to suck up to Arcade Fire's success with the same word two years before? Beware: if you happen to have heard the song and not liked it, having passed out a «too simple + too pretentious = generic indie crap» judgement, do not let it forever ruin your relationship with Band of Horses. There are much better songs on Everything All The Time than this so-so, in my opinion, attempt at self-aggrandizing at the expense of genuinely interesting ideas.
In Ben's place, I would rather bet it all on the aptly titled 'First Song' and its intricate wall of sound, constructed out of mostly trivial guitar jangle and slide runs, but in a way that spells «anthemic» without immediately reminding you of all the negative connotations of indie aesthetics. The «pop» and «roots» elements of the tune cleverly complement each other — the redneck and the hipster neutralize one another's yucky sides, and the result is quite refreshing.
The other songs are usually less well balanced, moving either too far in the pop-rock ('Wicked Gil') or in the country-rock ('Part One') department, but Bridwell has a good ear for hooks, and almost each song has something going for it either in the instrumental or in the vocal department. The thick guitar riff that opens 'The Great Salt Lake' almost promises a pop masterpiece — unfortunately, the song eventually transforms into 'The Funeral Part 2', i. e. a three-chord anthem, and is nearly ruined, but for about two minutes out of five it sparkles. As do 'Wicked Gil', 'Our Swords', and 'Weed Party'. The slow country waltzes and the James Taylor-ish 'St. Augustine' — not sure about these, but they do not offend or anything.
As long as you do not take the album's name too literally — let us assume that this is what they want to be eventually happening, in the process of gathering firewood for the machine to run — Everything All The Time is a fine enough record with a face of its own, even if that face is very transparently assembled from several mutilated face parts. But them horses have not yet been given a proper ride: it's a thumbs up all right — from behind the back.
Check "Everything All The Time" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Everything All The Time" (MP3) on Amazon