by Scott Lensing
4.0 out of 10 disappointed fans
There it was, on display at the Whole Foods register, double-teamed by Jack Johnson and Michael Bublé: Infinite Arms, the latest release from Band of Horses. “Bwah?” No one around me would have known it, but I was immediately ashamed. How did my beloved band find themselves in the snoozer company of adult-contemporary all-stars who rhapsodize about banana pancakes (delicious, no doubt) and impersonate Frank Sinatra?A phenomenal debut and an excellent sophomore album raised expectations for this third LP from the Seattle-turned-Carolina rockers. However, what should have cemented of Band of Horses’ place as one of the most satisfying acts in indie rock instead represented a dive into a limbo of lazily meandering melodies. I probably should have seen the writing on the wall, as lead singer Ben Bridwell remains the sole original member of the band. Even when the video for the first single, “Compliments,” previewed in early April, with its bizarre montage of nature photos, I refused to believe that more of this risk-averse music would come on the album. Of course, I was wrong.
If Cease to Begin was one totally acceptable step from Everything All the Time into more accessible song-craft, then Infinite Arms is a leap into substanceless tunes. From start to finish, not one song truly stands out from the rest, an absolutely glaring change from their previous efforts that reverberated indefinitely in my head for days and weeks at a time. Multiple-part harmony with a Southern-rock tinge reigns the day on this record, usually accompanied by a daintily strummed acoustic guitar and nominally tapped drums. The wondrous reverb is gone, as this album relies completely on the pleasant but lackluster vocals that constitute the foundation for each and every track.
The only remaining constants of today’s Band of Horses are Bridwell’s lovely and expansive voice, and an abundance of beards. Despite the nature motifs of this LP, the songs fail to reach into the infinite abyss as they once did; the vocals are altogether contained and restrained. Bridwell’s pipes no longer haunt nor unsettle, but instead breeze past the listener without taking root. Lyrics like “If there’s a God up in the air/Someone looking over everyone/At least you got something to fall back on” are straightforward and uninspired, with a sense of contentedness to just have someone listen to the singers’ musings. Songs such as “Blue Beard” resemble dated 1970s love-ballads, and don’t elicit more than an unimpressed sigh. Ironically, even with tunes that spill over with affections and aches, this record lacks heart.
And I don’t strive to be overly harsh, but I can’t help but discuss at length my disappointment with a band that I once held dear. It just seems that with the well-deserved success of their first two albums, Band of Horses, and Bridwell more specifically, made an indulgent record that they knew could ride on the coattails of fan loyalty. While Whole Foods’ prominent recognition of the group is not a damning sign in and of itself, it is certainly an indication that the band had lost its creative and compelling identity. Let’s hope that, somehow, Band of Horses regain their unshakable sound on the next effort..
Meh…: “On My Way Back Home” and “For Annabelle”