The UnLive | Albums: Infinite Arms by Band of Horses
Posted on May 15, 2010 by Greg
Infinite Arms by Band of Horses, out May 18, 2010
I have to start by saying that Band of Horses’ first record, Everything All the Time is one of my favorites of the 2000s. It’s a brilliantly-painted canvas of heartbreak, fear, loss and hope. For much of that album, lead singer Ben Bridwell’s vocals sound like the cries of a wounded animal echoing through empty canyons. Songs like “The Great Salt Lake,” “The Funeral,” and “Monsters,” still give me chills years and repeated plays later. Their follow-up record, Cease to Begin was a disappointment at first listen, but steadily grew on me. It wasn’t as good as Everything, but I can hardly blame them for that.
Between Everything, Cease, and Infinite Arms, BOH has undergone a lot of changes. They moved from Seattle and Sub Pop to North Carolina and Columbia Records, and jettisoned co-founder Mat Brooke, original drummer Tim Meinig, original bassist Chris Early, guitarist Rob Hampton, guitarist Ludwig Boss and drummer Sera Cahoone. They’ve had about as much turnover as Wilco. Like Jeff Tweedy in Wilco, the one stabilizing factor in BOH is guitarist/ vocalist/ principal songwriter Ben Bridwell. And while he is the center of the band, I can’t help feeling that all these changes have steadily eroded the power of BOH. Infinite Arms is definitely the wimpiest record they have put out.
Infinite starts very strongly with the delicate symphonic pop of “Factory.” It’s a strings-first arrangement about a terminal relationship that shows off Bridwell’s shining tenor, and it ranks among the best of their catalogue. “Compliments” sounds like one of the strong midtempo tracks from Everything, with driving vocals and staccato drums and guitar, and “Laredo” compares favorably to Everything’s rave-up, “Weed Party” with its ringing southern-accented guitars, but with darker lyrics.
But then we get “Blue Beard,” with bouncy pop goofiness that sounds like a freaking Supertramp song. (This is a bad thing for me…sorry Supertramp fans.) “Way Back Home” is good but light; similar to “No One’s Gonna Love You” from Cease, but less forceful. “Infinite Arms” is a pretty song, but slow and floaty, followed by “Dilly,” another light rock hum-alonger. “Evening Kitchen” is a very pretty song, but it’s a dose of Lunesta placed right where the album needs a defibrillator. Things pick up a little for “Older,” a front porch picker-and-grinner with nice vocal harmonies, then “For Annabelle” continues the nice harmonies, but pulls the stick shift back to “glacial.” “NW Apt.” is a godsend; a great sub-three-minute rocker about the joys of playing in a small band. The record finishes with a sigh on “Neighbor,” a slow roller backed by gentle keys: another nice song that would be better appreciated on an album with more urgency and variety.
In the final analysis, Infinite Arms is tough to review. It’s not a bad album. Most every song has merits…there are only a few real throwaways. But 75% of it is super slow and pillowy. Band of Horses’ sound is getting softer by the album, and is heading straight toward the precipice of Light FM. The lyrics and musicianship are still there, but they need to shock themselves back to life before they start putting out those crap songs you hear in grocery stores and dentists’ offices. That would make me sadder than any tale of heartbreak Band of Horses could possibly dream up.
6 of 10
–Greg from The UnCool
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