Over the last half-decade or so, Band of Horses have gathered a fanbase through plucking reverb guitars and laying down epic breakdowns on songs like "Funeral" and "No One's Gonna Love You," and more recently through string-laden midtempo rock like Infinite Arms'
"Factory." They've established a sound that's pleasingly predictable -- tight and well-composed rock 'n' roll. Which makes their fourth full-length album, Mirage Rock
, a little confusing. Because who knew that Band of Horses could sound so much like John Cougar Mellencamp?
The trailer for Mirage Rock
is a black and white canoe ride in a Rocky Mountain lake, set to a song that sounds a lot like America's "Horse With No Name"
before a classic Band of Horses rock breakdown snaps us into full-color studio footage. From this we ought to have been able to guise Mirage Rock
's sound as a whole -- Americana country mixed with just a tad of that old BoH flair.
The album starts out well enough (and ends too, but more on that later) -- "Knock Knock," the album's lead single, is unrelenting and upbeat -- but things spiral downward quickly, beginning with the Bob Segar-esque "How To Live." The only other thing I can about the song is that it also brings to mind Kid Rock's "Born Free," which can't be a good thing. Mirage Rock
continues to pull from the pages of Americana and country -- the Neil Young-sounding "Cruel Hands of Time," the aforementioned "Horse With No Name" rip "Dumpster World," the full-on Mellencamp "Electric Music," and the modern-day George Jones rendition "Long Vows." It's clear that Band of Horses wanted to do something different this time around, but for most of the album it seems like they didn't know quite how to pull off their vision. As a result their influences shine through far too much.
The album only works when they figure out how to etch out a place for themselves within the style -- but there are only a few examples. "Everything's Gonna Be Undone" does an excellent job of mixing harmonies and the song is just complicated enough, instrumentally and compositionally, to satisfy. The hard-rocking "Feud" takes a page out of Silversun Pickup's book to make a poppy rock song with real attitude. Additionally, the chorus' line "I want you to fail" is one of the only times on the album when Benjamin Bridwell's unnuanced lyrics land memorably. Lastly, the bleak, Springsteen-with-a-cough album closer "Heartbreak On The 101" is far more clever than it seems at first. Listen to it again, it gets better and better.
The bad here outweighs the good. In some way, Band of Horses should be commended for going in a new direction. But they picked the wrong direction, either for them or for us. Most of the songs never get off the ground, sounding too similar to better, more well-known songs. But who's to say that better execution could have saved this album? Unfortunately, Mirage Rock
hearken backs to a time I'm not sure anyone wants to relive.