For Fans Of
Band Of Horses released their fifth album, ‘Why Are You Ok’ earlier this month for the indie/hipster masses to lap up with reckless abandon. Now, this is a band that I’ve never really gotten into before. Well, not before now that is, and I’ll openly admit that I ate this new record up like it was going out of fucking style.
See, last year Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘Kintsugi’ hit me hard with its delicate instrumentation, deep atmospheric vibes and emotive timbres and melodies. That album was one of my favourite records of that year and now in 2016, Band Of Horses has given me something similar musically speaking, but it’s not quite strong enough of a release to enter my top ten list (which I am constantly updating in my head). But let’s get into what makes ‘Why Are You Ok‘ a solid release from the South Carolina group.
The exquisite ‘Dull Times/The Moon’ kicks off LP #5. It’s sluggish tempo, its hazy wash of vocals and guitars, and its soft drumming all make for a very relaxing, rather low-key introduction to the record. Well, at first anyway. As in the final two minutes, the band really kick up the dynamics and energy of the track, with driving, distorted guitars, heavier drums, and more vocal and guitar layers added in.
Y’know, I had a feeling that the slash in the song’s title actually referred to something and wasn’t just there for the sheer sake of it.
This change in sections really jolts you out of the blissful trance the first five minutes place you in and is just a great bit of songwriting in general. In fact, ‘Dull Times/The Moon’ is arguably one the best songs on offer. Which is kinda annoying, as it’s the first damn song and it sets such a high precedent that is matched by the following songs on only a few occasions (I’ll get to that later on). Funnily enough, I find that this first track alone sums up the tone and general flow of this album really well.
Much like it’s introductory song, ‘Why Are You Ok’ as a whole has many peaks and many nulls across its runtime. Some songs build slowly and move along idly and softly (that’s the “Dull Times“) and others are larger, louder pieces like the final couple minutes of (and there’s “The Moon” part). This is achieved by having songs that vary in their dynamics, as well as having varying instrumentation and production ideas throughout. All of which helps to create contrast. Which in turn creates interest. Which hopefully creates passion. Which may potentially create a new fan in the listener. See how that shit works, people?
Bands far heavier than Band Of Horses really need to take a leaf out of their books.
Songs like the brilliant ‘In A Drawer‘ and the wondrous ‘Hag’ are easy standouts that do actually match ‘Dull Times/The Moon’. Likewise, the bittersweet ‘Whatever, Wherever‘, and the touching penultimate track, ‘Barrel House’, are prime examples of the band’s snowballing, slow-burning, beautiful soundscapes. All of those aforementioned songs have a grand sense of space and ambience, with reverb and delay in all the right places. It’s the kind of spatiality that you could lose yourself in if you’re not careful.
On the flipside, the far more upbeat ‘Casual Party’ is a great song in of itself and I wish that band would delve into this louder, rock style a lot more. To be fair, they more or less do it further down the track listing with the cheery, country sounding‘Throw My Mess’, and while that track is decent, it doesn’t quite hit the mark like ‘Casual Party’ does.
The record also has a very lively nature to its production and its mix, and as such it feels very “raw” and very “human” (as douchey and as PR as all that sounds). However, I really do think that this record captures the feeling of watching the band jam out right in front of you; like they’re playing in the live room and you’re sitting back in the control room watching and listening on. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not, but goddamnit, do I dig that vibe hard.
However! There is one song here that really threw me under the bus and that was ‘Country Teen‘. It’s the one time on the album when the production of the record really gets in the way of the songs. My issue here is the stereo panning of this track. Panning all of the bass and the vocals hard right and panning all of the drums hard left, while keeping the guitars somewhere in the middle, was such an odd decision and it just gave me with a fucking headache (especially when listening through headphones). And I seriously doubt I’ll be the only one.
I mean, there’s a reason that bands just don’t do this! It’s just such a shame as I know that I’d love ‘Country Teen’ so much more if it’s stereo imagery was far more conventional. Seriously, the mixer in me just wishes I had full access to this session so I can set it up my own way. Of course, I respect the idea of creating art and releasing it in a specific way and leaving it as is, but come on, what the fuck, guys?!
Also, while I’m on a rant here, ‘Barrel House’ should have replaced the almost abstract and insanely low-key ‘Even Still‘, (which just washes over you and not in a good way) as the album’s closing track. That would have been a much better fit to cap off the record.
Also also. The instrumental of ‘Hold On Gimme A Sec‘ halfway through the album was rather pointless. It didn’t really seem to serve a purpose and felt like an extra minute or so that was simply taking up time. Of course, you can argue that it’s just a minute long and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’m looking at the whole package for this review and not just one song. So there!
Band Of Horses really know how to make you feel things, and they really know how to pull on your heart strings. They cleverly use it to their advantage on ‘Why Are You Ok’, but for the all the character and sheer depth this record has, I can’t help but feel they’re missing out for not creating more energetic, more driving songs here. Sure, the album’s great for early morning or late night drives and it’ll put you in one very calm sate of mind, but I found that it needs more “oomph” at times. Save for a couple average songs (like ‘Throw My Mess’ and ‘Solemn Oath’) and one really fucking painful track (‘Country Teen’), this is quite a solid release with a lot to like on it.
Also, if you read just this conclusion and not the actual review, then you are the reason we can’t have nice things.
1. Dull Times/The Moon
2. Solemn Oath
4. Casual Party
5. In A Drawer
6. Hold On Gimme A Sec
7. Lying Under Oak
8. Throw My Mess
9. Whatever, Whatever
10. Country Teen
11. Barrel House
12. Even Still