After two well-received albums, the new Band of Horses record, Infinite Arms
, is largely getting trashed in the press. Indeed there is something easy to dislike about this collection of songs. Let's start with the lyrics. There is no doubt that Ben Bridwell is not a gifted wordsmith. Often it seems he's actively trying to write songs about nothing. Some of the biggest head-scratching clunkers ever put to music are assembled here. Examples? How about this icky opening line from the title track: "I had a dream I was your neighbor about to give birth." Not convinced? How about the next verse, "I love the morning/I like to listen to 4 AM birdies begging to feed." Or this from the closer, "Neighbor" "The door stood as if it was standing guard of the dozen chipmunks in the backyard." Or from the same song, "If Bartles and Jaymes didn't need no first names we could live by our own laws of favor." What on God's green earth Bridwell is on about, we'll never know and it's probably better that way. Mostly, the lines are completely interchangeable, only sharing some vague sense of malaise, a desire to find something to say and a cringe-inducing, men's group vulnerability.
But as much as the lit majors would hate to admit it, indie rock isn't all about who writes the most clever lyrics. So here's where dismissing Infinite Arms
gets tricky. More than any other rock band, Bridwell and company are coming the closest to the "cosmic American music" that so many songwriters have striven for. Just listen to the slice of country rock heaven that is "Older" and tell me you don't hear the echoes of Neil Young, The Byrds, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. It doesn't really matter what Bridwell is saying, when he and his band sound like this. The twang in his voice is so natural, not overly emphasized like a wannabe hillbilly.
Another sore point for many might be the 70's AM Gold stylings that are brought to the forefront this time around. Band of Horses reveal themselves to be softies and aren't hiding themselves under a mountain of overdriven guitar sludge and murky vocals to please the cool people anymore. Some of these songs, like the lovely acoustic ballad "Evening Kitchen," the lush waltz, "For Annabelle" and "Blue Beard," with its irresistible la-la-la-oohs, wouldn't be out of place on a Seals and Crofts, Firefall, Pure Prairie League or England Dan and John Ford Coley album. This is not a pose the band are trying on for size. This is who they are now and as much as you might wish some of these lines had ironic quotation marks around them, Band of Horses are going to beat you down with a sincerity that makes John Denver seem like John Lydon. -dan siegler
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