Plaid-shirt wearing beardies Band Of Horses have gone all cinematic for their third opus, and in the process, they’ve lost some of the darker edginess that made us love them in the first place.
There’s not a whole lot wrong with Infinite Arms. From sweeping album opener, -Factory’, it’s clear that they’ve opened their lens wide, with lead Horseman Ben Bridwell taking a big, anthemic, wide-screen approach to song-writing (much of Infinite Arms was penned in a cabin on the Canadian border in Minnesota). So far, so admirable. But after a dozen songs, you can’t shake the feeling that it’s all a little too nice, too safe.
Where’s the pensive energy that made -The Funeral’ or -Is There A Ghost?’ required listening or the truly heart-worn emotion that pervaded -No One’s Gonna Love You’? It seems to have been replaced by an FM-friendly jangly guitar sound that, while difficult to detest, is equally tough to really fall in love with. -Laredo’ is a case in point: it’s melodic and catchy enough, but there just isn’t enough substance behind the jingle-jangle to get excited about, while tracks like the countrified -Older’ are simply Horses-by-numbers.
There are exceptions, of course. -Blue Beard’ is absolutely gorgeous, as if the Beach Boys were born in Nashville instead of California, -Evening Kitchen’ is sparse and lovely, while it’s physically impossible to listen to -Dilly’ without being affected by its infectious, bittersweet melody. The closing -Neighbor’ (sic) is stunning, building in momentum from a rather spare paean to a fuzzy mini-epic.
But there’s only so much melancholy you can bear without craving something stronger, be it happiness or despair. Only lead single -Compliments’ and the (by comparison) scorching guitar of -NW Apartment’ come close to lifting the tempo above mid-paced, so that by the time the last chords have twanged into the ether, there’s a nagging feeling of disappointment that Bridwell’s not-so-merry men have failed to cement their reputation as one of the most vital new rock bands in America and the true heirs to Crazy Horse’s ragged glory. Solid, where it could have been spectacular.