Looking back at my Top 10 of 2006, I wouldn’t change a thing about it now. But I’ll tell you what - the album I’ve played most from that list in 2007 is not #1 (Destroyer) or #2 (Califone) - it’s Band of Horses’ Everything All The Time, which placed at #3. It’s an album I don’t ever tire of and can listen to almost anytime, the rare type that can be enjoyed without thought of time, place, or context. Today Band of Horses releases their sophomore record, Cease To Begin. Once again coming via Sub Pop, the new album finds the members of the band after having relocated from Pacific Northwest to the cozy confines of South Carolina. It’s this change of scenery that has everyone focused on the more laid back, country-ish feel to many of the new songs. To me though, Cease To Begin is more a continuation of the debut (which possessed a healthy amount of this sound) than a dramatic departure from it.
The most striking aspect to Cease To Begin is how effective Ben Bridwell sells his sometimes poetically-challenged lyrics. Although that’s not a new thought after Everything All The Time, on the new record Bridwell seems particularly capable of not only wowing you with his reverb-drenched pipes, but making you believe every simple, heartfelt, earnest declaration he makes. Without a shred of irony or sarcasm Bridwell wails that “the world is such a wonderful place” and “no one’s gonna love you more than do”. If you’re going to sing words like these, you’d better sound like you mean them, and I‘ll be damned if he hasn’t made my entire worldview change with those simple words. It is a wonderful place! Bridwell’s performance should be evidence enough that “what is said” isn’t as important as “how it’s said”.
The country tones come through on the languid sway of “Detlaf Schrempf” and album closer “Window Blues”. The gorgeous “Marry Song” is easily the most harmonious song I’ve heard all year. These are some of the more powerful songs on Cease To Begin, and show Bridwell equally comfortable with the quiet as the loud. “Is There A Ghost” comes closest to the anthemic songs of the debut, gradually building to a blast of power chords that most closely recalls the dramatic quiet/loud/quiet of “The Funeral”. It, like the album, is deeply satisfying despite never once upsetting your expectations. “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” achieves a similar feat - loud, crashing guitars wrestle with Bridwell’s echoed drawl, rising and falling against one another over and again. The only other rocker on the album, “Islands On The Coast”, isn’t as memorable and fails to provide the series of great rock songs that “The Great Salt Lake”, “Wicked Gil”, “Weed Party” did on the debut.
Bridwell has already caught some slack for selling and licensing his songs to various media outlets. But who could blame him? Artists have the right to make sure their music is heard, especially in this day and age of little to no radio support. Songs as good as those that populate Cease To Begin deserve it more than any. With this record Band of Horses can expect to reach the next level of indie-rock superstardom with or without the help the commercials and TV placements allow, one co-habited by Spoon, The Shins, and The Decemberists. They deserve nothing less.
MP3 :: Is There A Ghost
(from Cease To Begin. Order here)
Bonus MP3 :: The Funeral
Bonus MP3 :: The Great Salt Lake
(from Everything All The Time. Buy here)