It takes a lot of effort to listen and actually pay attention to Band of Horses’ latest album Infinite Arms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it… I just feel as though I paid $100 for a refreshing, adventurous horseback ride with really great brochures and instead got a few laps of Centennial Park on a one-trick pony with very heavy hooves. Sometimes one prefers a few cheeky bucks or a kick in the leg – a good war story is at least entertaining.
We know from their debut album Everything All the Time and follow-up Cease to Begin that Band of Horses aren’t just another indie band. We’ve seen that they are capable of diversity, complex melodies and risk-taking – so why then have they suddenly decided to play it safe? It is understandable that after so much initial success they are hesitant to explore and attempt new things with their music.
Perhaps they were so concerned about disappointing their new fan-base that they didn’t want to make too challenging a record and scare them all away. Or maybe they wanted to create a really pretty soundtrack for some fleeting hipster chick flick starring Zooey Dunst Olsen, or whatever. Reasoning aside, one thing is clear (and it’s definitely not the distinction between where one track ends and another begins): they need to regain their edge.
So let’s break it down a little… The opening track ‘Factory’ is just lovely – wistful and melodic, it’s the perfect song for gazing out the window on a long car trip, sighing and thinking about deep things like that guy/girl at the CD store you have a crush on and oh-woe-is-me-why-won’t-they-notice-me contemplations. Yawn. The second track, ‘Compliments’ is probably where you should pull over and fill up on the petrol (you’re not missing much, don’t worry – in fact, get yourself a red bull while you’re there; you’ll need it). ‘Laredo’ has you back on the road though, spacing out on the highway to a pleasant, albeit repetitive, guitar riff.
That’s the issue here: everything is just la-di-frikkin’-da on this album. There’s nothing exciting about it, nothing controversial, nothing mum would protest to. And where’s the fun in that? ‘Blue Beard’ is one of the only highlights on the album, featuring some of lead singer Ben Bridwell’s trademark beautiful vocals and richer harmonic and melodic textures than most of the other tracks put together. So no micro-sleeping on that one!
Many of the songs are misleading and tend to have exquisite openings, which only makes it that little bit more disheartening. Case in point: ‘Dilly’ – promising beginning, falls flat, lack of development = fail. The most frustrating thing about the album is just how simplistic it is, as if they don’t trust their audience enough to add in a few curve balls and so they restrict themselves from the growth they should be working towards.
It’s as though they have a set pattern to follow that, rather than allowing for a point of relation between each track to create cohesion, has resulted in a blur. It’s a compilation of fluff pieces that merge together in a montage of easily accessible (and forgettable) melodic lines, none of which stand out in your memory. In fact, even the bloody CD cover is boring – not that we should judge our CDs by their covers, people!
But don’t pack them off to the meat factory just yet. They’re still on a 2:1 win/loss ratio, and we know from their first two albums they do have what it takes to become the kind of band able to withstand the fads. It is always difficult for newly-established artists to figure out where to take themselves next, so this timidity should not be seen as a sign of what is yet to come.
Don’t dwell on it, buy the album for your dad to listen to in the car and wait for what comes next… If they are brave enough to match their material to their musicality, they will once again blow us out of the stables (last cringe-worthy horse reference, I promise). But for now? Somebody pass me the red bull.