band of horses

Album Review: Band Of Horses, “Why Are You OK?”

Musical nostalgia; it’s an inescapable phenomenon backed by science, that makes sure pretty much any song we fell in love with in the hyperreal years of our late teens and early twenties are etched into our souls like tattoos, constant reminders of the tumultuous inner lives of our younger selves. Hear one of these mementos come up in shuffle and you might smile, or cry, or frantically search to delete your ex’s phone number to avoid suppressing the urge to text them after all this time. Undoubtedly you will feel something. Just the sound of the familiar Band of Horses twang and Ben Bridwell’s strained and choral voice is enough to send me spiraling into those 2006 late night listen on repeat sessions of debut Everything All The Time. It’s enough to make you want to buy a moleskin journal, don a vintage dress and flounce your away around the indie clubs you once haunted like a manic pixie dream ghost.

The difference between Band of Horses and their many musical counterparts of my youth is that they became a band to grow up with. The fans who latched on to the crooning refrain of The Funeral are mostly now functioning adults. They have clothes that they brought at a real store to go to a real job to perhaps support their real children, and are more likely listening to the band’s music while cleaning the house on Saturday morning rather than on the first train home with a killer hangover, still wearing last night’s outfit. The band has done a lot of growing sonically in the last decade, but the essence of longing that burrowed their sound deep into the hearts of those who found them early on is still present on latest release Why Are You Ok, albeit a little hidden away.

For someone hearing the heavily country-laden hooks and folky ideals for the first time on this record, it could be forgiven for brushing over the glossy finish and filing the release away in the “dad rock” folder. This time, production is at the hands of Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, and while it is certainly edgier than last effort Mirage Rock with i’s analog synths and voicemail samples, there are still moments that feel lacking in verve. For those who have followed along through the years, there is still plenty of reflective raw emotion to dwell on and enough soft pools of sound to float in to warrant a few solid listens.

Opener Dull Times/The Moon meanders through a slow ballad about separation (“home is where the heart is… home is where you are”) and is a deceptively languid introduction to the record, until the guitars kick in around the five minute mark. From here the fuller sound is much more representative of what we have come to expect. Solemn Oath has a foot stomping melody that injects a contagious element into the first half of the album, mirrored in the back end by the Johnny Cash-esque rock n roll hook of Country Teen. J Mascis makes an appearance for the chorus of standout In A Drawer with his sleepy drawl complementing Bridwell’s endearing croon. Then there are moments of sheer disarming beauty with tracks Whatever, Wherever and Lying Under Oak showing that even a decade later, Band Of Horses’ biggest strength is their ability to make us feel.

While the record may not be ground breaking, it is a tall challenge to expect a release to stand up against the nostalgic force of songs forged in memory, and there is still plenty here to build new bonds with. These songs might not be the old friends you grew up with, but like acquaintances you meet occasionally in the grocery store, they can still be pleasant all the same.

Be sure to check these guys out at Splendour in the Grass or their sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne.

Image: The Guardian