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Band of Horses - Mirage Rock Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 6
Musicianship 6
Lyrics 6
Production 6
Creativity 6
Lasting Value 6
Reviewer Tilt 6
Final Verdict: 60%
Member Ratings
Vocals 7.5
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7
Production 7
Creativity 6.5
Lasting Value 6
Reviewer Tilt 6.5
Average: 69%
Inside AP.net

Band of Horses - Mirage Rock

Reviewed by: Craig Manning (09/17/12)
Band of Horses - Mirage Rock
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Record Label: Columbia Records

Band of Horses are one of those bands that, at least in my experience, are easy to like and hard to love. Over the course of three albums, they’ve made a lot of music I adore, but they’ve also constructed a fair number of songs that I don’t particularly care for. The haunting and bombastic “The Funeral” got my attention back in the fall of 2006 after they dropped their debut, Everything all the Time, but it’s still the only song from that record I come back to with any regularity. 2007’s Cease to Begin was their peak, with great singles like “Is There a Ghost” and “No One’s Gonna Love You,” and a consistently solid set beyond them, while 2010’s Infinite Arms took a stab at alt-country and came up short with lukewarm reviews. Contrary to popular belief, that one actually felt wholly organic and enjoyable to me, and the highlights (“Evening Kitchen,” “On My Way Back Home,” “Trudy”) were textbook summer night serenades.

The band’s fourth full-length, titled Mirage Rock holds onto the alt-country and folk influences, but melds them with the more indie-rock/chamber pop-based tradition that they had going on their first two records. Case-in-point is the first single “Knock Knock,” which bursts out of the gate with fuzzy guitars, “woah-oh” vocal lines, and an infectious refrain melody. “How to Live” is even better, boasting a vintage southern-folk lilt and a dusky, wistful guitar solo that recalls ‘90s Wallflowers records with effortless grace. Things go downhill after that though. “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” shows promise, but never goes anywhere, and “A Little Biblical” is a thoroughly disposable piece of filler. “Shut-In Tourist” is an improvement, offering gorgeous vocal harmonies, a pristine melodic line, and a cascading musical accompaniment that lends it an almost otherworldly feel. But the problem with Band of Horses, at least this time around, is that their music doesn’t really engage. There’s no measure of intensity or power here, no trace of the band that got their start by kicking down the door on “The Funeral.” On Mirage Rock, frontman Ben Bridwell and Co. seem content with just making glorified background music.

The record gets shaken awake somewhat during its second half, thanks largely to the propulsive “Electric Music,” which sounds remarkably like a Rolling Stones number. The credit for that goes in part to legendary producer and recording engineer Glyn Johns, a guy who made his name working with The Who and the Stones themselves, and who mans the boards here with seasoned assurance. You can hear the same throwback sensibility in “Feud,” which keeps the amplifiers turned up, but sadly the song ends up as an angry, melodically-challenged mess. Its still more appealing than “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” though, which returns to the same kind of safe, complacent, and sleepy songwriting style that killed the momentum of the record’s first side. Everything undone indeed, and back to square one.

Luckily, penultimate cut “Long Vows” is a sweeping alt-country ballad that could have fit on Infinite Arms, and the haunting “Heartbreak on the 101” closes the album out on its highest note. Bridwell splits vocal duties with lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey, only coming in at the two-and-a-half minute mark to carry the album out, but Ramsey’s ragged vocals do the song a huge favor. “Couldn’t really think that I’d just stand aside/Take up something new or start another life,” he growls, channeling some shattered cross between Johnny Cash and Tom Waits. An unsettling cello line gives way to a full-fledged string section once Ramsey passes the baton off to Bridwell for the anchor leg, and Bridwell’s usually pleasant and lilting vibrato sounds mournfully unsettling, only ratcheting up the tension further. It’s an eerie fade-out to a frustrating album, a break-up song where sadness and rage bubble just below the surface, and it gives the otherwise tepid Mirage Rock a note of redemption and electricity just before the needle lifts.

Unfortunately, a handful of good moments aren’t enough to outweigh an album jammed with songwriting that just doesn’t amount to anything. Bridwell’s voice is as distinctive as ever and the band is still the tight musical outfit they have always been (even though the members have constantly rotated), while Glyn Johns lives up to his legacy, making everything sound authentic and nostalgic. But all of that means when the material isn’t strong, and for most of Mirage Rock, it isn’t. I’ve hoped for a long time that Band of Horses would eventually make a classic, a record that would blend their indie-rock and Americana influences to the perfect degree, and one whose mix of melancholic strains and brash chamber pop ideals would channel all of their best qualities into one place. But ever since Cease to Begin, they’ve fallen into a trend of diminishing returns, and with Mirage Rock, they’ve finally crossed into mediocrity. Worse, they've lost sight of what made them special in the first place, and what they found to replace it just rings hollow. Looking forward from their worst release to date, it’s getting harder to believe that a magnum opus is anywhere in the future of Band of Horses, but at least their Greatest Hits will still be killer.

6/10

Additional InformationTrack Listing:

1. Knock Knock
2. How to Live
3. Slow Cruel Hands of Time
4. A Little Biblical
5. Shut-In Tourist
6. Dumpster World
7. Electric Music
8. Everything's Gonna Be Undone
9. Feud
10. Long Vows
11. Heartbreak on the 101

Produced by: Glyn Johns
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 31.
04:54 AM on 09/18/12
#2
Jeff_Ryan
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Really, "The Funeral" is the ONLY song you like from EATT?

But yeah this album is boring. I love their first two albums so much. It's a shame.
05:53 AM on 09/18/12
#3
Craig Manning
Down in Jungleland
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Really, "The Funeral" is the ONLY song you like from EATT?

But yeah this album is boring. I love their first two albums so much. It's a shame.

Not the only one. I've listened to that album three or four times over the past week, and everything on there is terrific. But "The Funeral" is really the only one that's ever been a part of my regular rotation. Will have to change that.
05:53 AM on 09/18/12
#4
CheckeredFloors
nah
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Shame.
07:35 AM on 09/18/12
#5
Blake Solomon
Leave a one-way note.
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whew, i don't know man, i really dig this album. such good nighttime, chill music. it's a time/place record for sure, but when you get both of those factors right, it's pretty dang good.
07:43 AM on 09/18/12
#6
Holly HoX!
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Okay, your first sentence is most perfect summation of this band for me as well. Same with a band like Dr Dog. I don't hate em or love em, and if I saw either live, it would be because I got free tickets.

But...what the fuck. "The Funeral," while a good song, is not even close to the best song on that record. Personally, I would probably say "The Great Salt Lake" might be the best song they ever wrote, while about 5 other tracks are better than "The Funeral," including "Our Swords."

Ow, my head.
08:28 AM on 09/18/12
#7
Modern Leper
what?
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Pretty boring. I do like it better than the last one though, probably just because the songs are more distinguished from each other.
08:37 AM on 09/18/12
#8
benny06
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Album has good spots, but collectively is quite a disappointment.
08:50 AM on 09/18/12
#9
Craig Manning
Down in Jungleland
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whew, i don't know man, i really dig this album. such good nighttime, chill music. it's a time/place record for sure, but when you get both of those factors right, it's pretty dang good.

I love a few songs, but there's just too much I don't care for to keep me coming back. After the first two tracks, my hopes were high, but it pretty much let me down consistently after that until the last song.

Okay, your first sentence is most perfect summation of this band for me as well. Same with a band like Dr Dog. I don't hate em or love em, and if I saw either live, it would be because I got free tickets.

But...what the fuck. "The Funeral," while a good song, is not even close to the best song on that record. Personally, I would probably say "The Great Salt Lake" might be the best song they ever wrote, while about 5 other tracks are better than "The Funeral," including "Our Swords."

Ow, my head.

"The Great Salt Lake" and "Our Swords" are both perfectly lovely songs, but neither even comes close to the gorgeous, bombastic intensity that they build on "The Funeral." Sometimes, the single really is the best song on the album, and Everything All the Time is an album where that is most certainly the case.
08:54 AM on 09/18/12
FUCKDIRTYWIPES
Kicking it middle school
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Nice work. This album is not good.
08:56 AM on 09/18/12
Holly HoX!
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I love a few songs, but there's just too much I don't care for to keep me coming back. After the first two tracks, my hopes were high, but it pretty much let me down consistently after that until the last song.

"The Great Salt Lake" and "Our Swords" are both perfectly lovely songs, but neither even comes close to the gorgeous, bombastic intensity that they build on "The Funeral." Sometimes, the single really is the best song on the album, and Everything All the Time is an album where that is most certainly the case.

We can disagree.

I could obviously tell that that's how you feel seeing you only mention the singles from their albums...
09:03 AM on 09/18/12
Craig Manning
Down in Jungleland
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We can disagree.

I could obviously tell that that's how you feel seeing you only mention the singles from their albums...
Nothing wrong with a band that chooses their singles well. Those two are my favorites on Cease as well, though the last three tracks are up there as well. And I don't even know what the Infinite Arms singles were.
09:25 AM on 09/18/12
phaynes1
AP.NET ILLUMINATI
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Welp.
09:25 AM on 09/18/12
idledoeskill
Saint Barbara, don't let me explode
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I used to consider "The Funeral" the best song from EATT, but "Monsters" now holds that top spot for me. Only listened to Mirage Rock once so far, it seemed okay.
01:28 PM on 09/18/12
Likelinus
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its sad to admit it but this album is a huge let down... i really thought they had something great going on but they are in a creative downward spiral. Maybe its time to change the line up of members again or bring back Mat Brooke? maybe its time for Ben to write the albums alone again.
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