The week of May 16th features several artists, long considered favorites by many indie rock fans, returning to the fold with new albums. Not only is Band of Horses coming back with their new album, Infinite Arms, but they are also coming in with a new record label, having completed their agreement for Sub Pop. Would the change signify a distinctive shift in sound, or would we get more of the same?
On the opening track, “Factory,” you get the since that things haven’t changed too drastically since the last album, Cease to Begin. It’s got that slow paced Americana, expanded by the addition of string arrangements, and accompanied by Ben Birdwell’s exquisite vocals. He’s got something in the way his voice seems to fall off with just the tiniest vocal inflection, and it always gets me. Similarly, one of the other singles, “Laredo,” approaches the most-rocking moments of the album, with a steady percussion beat creating the backbone of the tune. Oddly, the melody and the structure seem super-connected to “No One’s Gonna Love You” off their last record, but then again, even with Birdwell’s strong vocals, the band does have a tendency to blend into itself. Still, this is a bit of re-hash in these eyes.
From here Infinite Arms takes a jump into a more folk-driven sound. Pace is slowed down a bit for numbers like “Blue Beard” and “Infinite Arms.” Each song has some gentle strumming, and the latter sound has some recording effects that give you the feeling that it was all recorded in some backwoods area. Don’t get me wrong, these songs have some strengths, particularly the recording of “Infinite Arms,” but there just isn’t some grand statement that is being made. In the past, there was always a Band of Horses track that made you wonder why this band wasn’t absolutely huge. Everything comes off really mild-mannered, and for some that will be a bit disheartening.
Give or take two tracks (“Dilly” and “Northwest Apartment”) the record really kind of stays in the vein of slow-core Americana. Honestly, this is probably the disappointing element. Yes, they always dabbled in folk elements, but nothing quite like the woodsy “Trudy.” It lacks lyrical depth as well, but that’s sort of par for the course with this collection of songs. Where is the balance of swirling melodies that raise into the heavens, only to crash down in some sense of quiet? It’s not there at all, and in fact, the most rocking you get on the latter half of the album is “Northwest Apartement,” aptly named for its blatant Built to Spill sonic allusions.
Don’t get me wrong, as Infinite Arms is a pleasant enough record. There are a few moving tracks that will still do enough to satisfy old fans, but then the rest of the record really feels like the group is just sort of treading water. Band of Horses seems to have run out of ideas, or in changing directions, the group doesn’t seem quite as confident as they once did. All this make for an uneven record that suffers from a general enthusiasm, but that could just be my own lackluster thoughts after going through this album hoping to find one more great gem.
Download: Band of Horses – Factory [MP3]