With Cease to Begin (Sub Pop), Band of Horses, the band that gave album reviewers the chance to name-check The Shins and The Flaming Lips even more than usual, has released an album that replaces the echo-drenched indie rock of their first ... with more echo-drenched indie rock.
Ok, that may not be completely accurate. You don't have to look any further than the album opener, “Is There A Ghost,” to find some of the things that made the band so buzzworthy in the first place: the sweeping guitars, the refreshingly heartfelt lyrics, frontman Ben Bridwell's reverby vocals. And yet, it is the details, the subtle shifts in tone, that prove the band isn't simply treading water.
For starters, their move from the gray skies of Seattle to the decidedly sunnier clime of North Carolina has definitely seeped into their music. There is a laid-back quality to the music, a feeling of looseness. “The General Specific” is probably the most obvious example, opening with hand-claps and twangy guitars and featuring Bridwell drawling “What the writers say/It means shit to me now.” There's even an honest-to-goodness honky-tonk piano interlude. The album closer, “Window Blues,” has the bittersweet feel of a guy sitting on his porch strumming a banjo: “the screen door swayin'/now baby give me something to live for.”
But have no fear; Band of Horses isn't turning into Alabama. The band knows not to stray too far from their basic sound – witness the sharp-edged guitars of “Ode to LRC” or the effervescence of “Islands on the Coast.” Cease to Begin's only stumbling block comes when the slower, mellow “No One's Gonna Love You” is followed by the slower, mellow (and obscurely-named) “Detlef Schrempf.” After the build-up of the first two tracks, it's a bit of an anti-climax. Happily, the second half of the album is much more consistent.
More than anything, Cease to Begin seems to be Band of Horses' attempt to deal with that old conundrum of how to change while still staying the same. If you didn't like them the first time around, this album probably won't make you a believer. Actually...maybe it will. Banjos can be awfully convincing. - Claire Orpeza