Band of Horses began its career with “Everything All in Time” and “Cease to Begin,” fantastic albums that revealed frontman Ben Bridwell as one of indie rock’s freshest voices. After a three-year break and multiple lineup changes, BOH returned in 2010 with the solid, but ultimately underwhelming, “Infinite Arms.” While the record had its moments of greatness, it failed to capture the splendid essence Bridwell and company exuded in their first two works. The band’s fourth studio album, “Mirage Rock,” unfortunately follows in the inconsequential footsteps of “Infinite Arms,” and the result is the band’s weakest album yet.
“Mirage Rock” begins promisingly with lead single “Knock Knock,” an exuberant albeit ordinary rocker with catchy “woo-hoos.” Towards the middle, however, the record runs into trouble. Bridwell has never been afraid to wear his influences like a badge of honor, but tracks like “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” and the first half of “Dumpster World” fail to even register as new Band of Horses songs. Instead, they feel like recycled songs by the band America. “A Horse With No Name” is a fine tune. After all, it is Walter White’s favorite driving song. But like a great joke, it’s never as good the second time around. Although “Dumpster World” picks up after the first couple minutes, it’s hard to get that far when the first half sounds like “A Horse With No Name Part 2: Still Nameless.” Bridwell’s influences used to be endearing, but on “Mirage Rock,” they’re merely distracting.
The biggest problem with “Mirage Rock” is joyless in comparison to Band of Horses’ previous records. Bridwell’s soulfully jubilant voice allowed him to sing naively flowery lines, but his delivery on much of the album, especially “How to Live,” is flippant and careless.
“Mirage Rock” does have a few bright spots, like “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” an example of acoustic folk done right, and “Feud,” a frantic rock song featuring Bridwell’s excellent falsetto.
Perhaps if “Mirage Rock” was the group’s first release it would seem less insignificant in the Band of Horses canon. With its simplicity and obvious influences, the record certainly feels like a freshman release. A listener unfamiliar with the band may find pleasure in its undeniably agreeable sound, much like a first time flier might be excited by the thrill of just being in an airplane. However, “Everything All in Time” and “Cease to Begin” are like the first class cabin on an airplane — once you’ve been there, stuffing yourself back into economy doesn’t really seem worth the trouble.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 20 print edition. Joshua Johnson is music editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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