Creativity is a funny creature. After 2012’s disappointing and slightly stale ‘Mirage Rock’, Band of Horses’ ringleader Ben Bridwell was forced to rethink his approach to songwriting. The aim was to recapture the emotional charm of their earlier work and to reconnect lyrically with the audience. It was the encouraging words of the granddad of the studio Rick Rubin that pushed Ben to write new material with many of the songs inspired by getting older and raising a family.
‘Dull Times/The Moon’ begins as a spacey, ethereal number, the vocals sounding like they are drifting out to the sea on the album’s front cover while the wistful refrain of “home is where the heart is…” puts a lump in your throat. The song is then stripped back to near silence before a savage, outlaw guitar riff crunches in, transforming the final two minutes into a pounding, grunge-tinged wigg out. In contrast, it’s followed by the light-hearted stomp of ‘Solemn Oath’, which comes across as the sound of a band who have let go of their restraints and are enjoying their music again.
Lead single ‘Casual Party’ is the drivetime radio hit the five-piece have been searching for since ‘The Funeral’ or ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’. The central riff wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-naughties indie record, but the pulsating chorus is a straight-up fist in the air crowd pleaser as they shout “Blind faith, it don’t sit right, You got rage wound so tight”. ‘In a Drawer’ might be one of the most humorous and uplifting songs of the year, its call and response centrepiece evoking the charms of Flight of the Conchords if they decided to embrace stadium rock.
It’s not just in the faster moments where Band of Horses showcase their revitalised energy though. ‘Lying Under Oak’ is a nostalgic look back at the hi-jinks of youth and it’s startling lo-fi chorus slowly settles into your head so comfortably you’d wish the song would never leave. ‘Whatever, Wherever’ is a beautiful, campfire strum about embracing the moments right in front of you and it conjures up memories of late summer nights with its soothing Beach Boys-esque melody.
It’s the variety that makes this an album to return to for another spin. ‘Throw My Mess’ begins as a playful country ditty before the menacing and fuzzed-up guitars are introduced for a stomping finale. The start of ‘Country Teen’ sounds a bit like a Casio Keyboard preset from the mid-90s, which oddly acts as the perfect backdrop to the tale of passing out on the lawn. The haunting guitars soon break out from the clouds into a summery chorus with hints of The Shins thrown in for good measure.
Unlike its predecessor, ‘Why Are You Ok?’ delivers consistently, drifting between styles without ever losing focus or passion. It has a playful nature that’s been missing from their recent work and Band of Horses sound completely revitalised. Rick Rubin as motivational speaker of the year? He seems to have worked wonders here.
This Band of Horses article was written by Tim Thackray, a GIGsoup contributor