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Band of Horses - 'Mirage Rock' Review

Easy-Listening Indie Rockers Deliver Comforting, Romantic Tunes

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band of horses mirage rock

Band of Horses - 'Mirage Rock'

Photo courtesy Nasty Little Man.
On their fourth album, Mirage Rock, Band of Horses continue in the same reflective, slowed-down vein as their last record, 2010’s Infinite Arms. When this group started out, they seemed to be the latest group to pay homage to the careening guitar epics of Neil Young’s ‘70s records, putting them in the same category as indie bands like Built to Spill and My Morning Jacket. But with Mirage Rock, frontman Ben Bridwell demonstrates a greater skill at crafting gorgeous, gentle folk-rock and pretty mid-tempo numbers. Band of Horses’ laid-back style won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s little doubt that they’ve become quite confident in their current sound.

Some Real Sweethearts

Band of Horses write songs that have a soft, sentimental center. Unlike other indie bands who often decry a lost love or a social ill, this quintet tend toward sweetness, having an unkind word for just about nobody. (Even when Mirage Rock’s “Feud” tells off an enemy, the rocker doesn’t ripple with rage but, rather, exhaustion.) Although Bridwell contributes a majority of the songs, guitarist Tyler Ramsey has also become an important creative force in the group. (Indeed, his “Evening Kitchen” was perhaps the finest track on Infinite Arms.) But whoever is writing the songs, Mirage Rock is a coherent whole in which even the more aggressive tunes have an emotional urgency to them.

Living Through Tough Times

If we still lived in an era when albums were divided into sides, Mirage Rock’s first half would be a killer. After the opening rave-up “Knock Knock” -- a familiar but very pleasurable slice of alt-rock guitar hooks -- the album gets down to the business of delivering one beautiful tune after another. From the happy-go-lucky “How to Live” to the Joni Mitchell-esque folk ballad “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” to the bouncy “A Little Biblical” to the mildly hippie-ish “Shut-In Tourist,” the album juxtaposes impossibly fetching melodies with bittersweet sentiments about disconnected souls and low-expectation lives. As a result, Mirage Rock offers comfort to the listener. Bridwell and his crew don’t want to challenge or confront their audience; they want to make music that helps their fans get through tough times.

Does This Sound Familiar?

With that said, that doesn’t mean that Band of Horses don’t sometimes recycle their sound -- or ape their influences. The starlit folk ballad “Dumpster World” starts off as faux-America before switching into a generic rocker reminiscent of Band of Horses’ first album, 2006’s Everything All the Time. The album’s second side is filled with solid songs that are nonetheless diminished somewhat by their generic structures. The feel-good “Electric Music” aspires, like a lot of these songs, to the groovy vibe of ‘70s rock, but when Band of Horses’ tunes aren’t perfect, they feel like pale reflections of what you can hear on classic rock stations all day long. The country lilt of the ballad “Long Vows” is as romantic as one could hope, and it’s easily the best moment on the second half. But even here, you may be reminded of other similar Band of Horses tunes, such as “Window Blues” off of 2007’s Cease to Begin. This is hardly a deal-breaker, but it does point to the fact that Mirage Rock’s melodic facility doesn’t always surprise.

Homespun and Handmade

The first song most people heard from Band of Horses was the single “The Funeral,” a despairing tune that hinted at an angst and tension that Bridwell hasn’t explored much in subsequent years. The elegant tension-and-release of that tune is nowhere to be found on Mirage Rock, just as it wasn’t on Infinite Arms, and Bridwell has moved away from that brand of indie-rock to one that’s more homespun and handmade. No matter: He and his bandmates are quite capable of producing heartfelt songs about getting by and taking life one day at a time. Maybe that’s why it’s called Mirage Rock: From a distance, it may look like rock ‘n’ roll, but up close it’s not quite what it appeared to be.

'Mirage Rock' - Best Tracks:

“How to Live” (Purchase/Download)
“A Little Biblical” (Purchase/Download)
“Slow Cruel Hands of Time” (Purchase/Download)
“Knock Knock” (Purchase/Download)
“Shut-In Tourist” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – September 18, 2012
Columbia Records

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