Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 561: Band of Horses

Lately a combination of a busy schedule and some long albums has slowed the progress of the CD Odyssey, but I am determined to get things rolling again.  Having an album I was ready to get through quickly is also a motivator.

Disc 561 is…. Everything All The Time
Artist: Band of Horses

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover?  A picture (or painting, it is hard to tell) of some trees, where the reflection of the trees look like roots.  I like the effect.

How I Came To Know It:  I first heard Band of Horses when they opened for Beck about five years ago.  I bought their second album, “Cease to Begin” and liked it so decided to buy the previous album, which was this one.

How It Stacks Up:  We now have four Band of Horses albums.  “Everything All The Time” is my least favourite.

Rating:  2 stars

Earlier tonight I watched Tom Jones perform John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” on the Jools Holland show.  Tom really nailed it (earlier he’d done Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” equally well). The experience reinforced in me that a great vocal performance is about feeling what you’re saying as much as it is about hitting all the notes.  What does all this have to do with Band of Horses’ debut album?  Well, let’s just say I wish they’d put the same kind of emotional effort into it.

So yes, I didn’t love this album, which is too bad, because I admire Band of Horses and generally like their stuff.  “Everything All The Time” has just a few too many of the classic modern indie problems for me to love it the way it wants to be loved, however.

For starters, I would have liked a little less sound crammed into the arrangement.  Music exists in the spaces between notes as much as the notes themselves, and most of the songs on “Everything” have a busy quality, and melodies that aren’t engaging enough to rise above the auditory mire. Bad indie pop is like bad power metal; both have all the hallmarks of their original genres but insist on playing everything really fast to show virtuosity.  Slow down guys, and enjoy yourselves a bit more, and so will your audience.

One of the worst examples on “Everything” is “Wicked Gil”, where it feels like the guitar is just being hammered away on to the point where it might as well just be another set of drums. The band can play well enough, and they are incredibly tight, but there’s a metronome quality to their music that detracts from any emotional content.

Ben Bridwell has the voice that modern indie bands all pine for; high with a hint of vibrato. This voice can work well, but it can also feel disengaged, and on “Everything…” Bridwell is more often in the latter category.  Listening to Tom Jones earlier helped demonstrate what was lacking on my Band of Horses experience earlier in the day.  Great singers make you feel the lyrics, each time like you’re hearing them for the first time.

On this album, Bridwell seems content to have his voice be one of many instruments.  That’s partly true of course, but phrasing is important if you want to connect with your audience.  Most of the time I struggled to pay attention to a word he was saying, let alone understand the theme of an entire song.

Because I wanted to understand better, I took a look inside the ‘booklet’ to read the lyrics while I listened, but instead of lyrics the band has put a series of pictures that look like they were taken for some junior high photography class.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a little snapshot of the snapshots.
OK, here we have considerably less than a thousand words worth of commentary so I’ll just go with “hand, plane, transformer, wires and Grandpa’s sitting room at the home.”  Annoying art cards is not value-added content for the CD buyer. 

Instead, they could have included the lyrics to this album’s one true classic song, “Funeral.” Bridwell sings his self-deprecated heart out as he confesses, “At every occasion I'll be ready for a funeral.”  It isn’t much on the page, but it is pretty in the song, which is stripped down and melancholy in a way that most of the other songs don’t match.  Sheila considers it a five star song, and while I wouldn’t go that far, it is damned fine.

The Funeral” is followed by the poetic but poorly titled “Part One” and the anthemic “Great Salt Lake” and these three songs form the foundation for what is best on the album and save it from the sell pile.

Sadly, the album descends again into a jangly mess again with “Weed Party,” and never really fully recovers.  “Weed Party” and a few others on the album demonstrate that with production decisions, “Everything All The Time” is usually a bad approach.

This album is better than some of my unkind comments would suggest, and it earns its two stars fair and square.  If I seem unkind, it is because I know this band is capable of so much more.  On this first album they are still figuring out how to fit in the things that make them unique consistently into songs that are still pretty, and resonant to the soul.  It isn’t as easy as it looks, but they do get there in places.

Best tracks:   The Funeral, Part One, Great Salt Lake

1 comment:

Chris said...

I'm with Sheila on this one. The Funeral is definitely a 5 star song. Having seen in live a couple times only reinforces that.

This is a band that gets better with their later efforts, but I don't think they'll ever get to anything quite as heart-aching again