By Matt Smigel
Band of Horses released their fourth studio album Mirage Rock last Wednesday after Tuesday night’s televised performance at the Ed Sullivan Theater for Live on Letterman. The eleven song LP was released on Columbia Records as well as on lead singer Ben Bridwell’s label Brown Records.
Band of Horses has been classified as indie rock, alternative country and southern rock. The band shares similarities with popular acts like Bon Iver, Delta Spirit and Lucero. The band was formed in Seattle in 2004 after the breakup of Bridwell’s former band Carissa’s Wierd (purposely misspelled). They were quickly signed to Sub Pop records of 90’s grunge fame and have since moved to South Carolina after signing with Capital Records to be closer to friends and family. In their years of touring they have shared the stage with renowned acts like Pearl Jam, Iron and Wine and recently The Black Keys.
Mirage Rock is the band’s much anticipated follow up to 2010’s Grammy nominated Infinite Arms and it does not disappoint. The album opens with the upbeat single “Knock Knock” and instantly the familiar sound of Bridwell’s soaring falsettos draws the listener in. Right from the start the major differences in the overall tone of the album compared to 2010’s Infinite Arms are evident. While their last release was very somber and mellow Mirage Rock is in comparison very upbeat and energetic.
The second track, “How to Live,” begins with a very interesting tremolo guitar intro that segways into a swinging verse dripping with country influence. The lyrics are blue collar and undeniably relatable and the tone of the song is a melding of nostalgia and sentimentality. What stands out most at this point in the album however is the production of the record. In contrast to their last over-polished release Mirage Rock has a very loose indie sound reminiscent of their earlier LP Cease to Begin.
Through the third and fourth track a pattern begins to form in the album placing faster tempo upbeat songs before slower folk influenced songs. This pattern keeps the listener interested and keeps the movement of the record very fluid. Before long the listener is introduced to another early single “Dumpster World.” The jazzy bass intro is incredibly refreshing as the band rarely showcases the talents of their bass player, Bill Reynolds. Quickly the first jazzy verse gives way to the heaviest and most surprising part of the album. The dirty distorted guitar is accompanied by unique gang backing vocals and the overall sound could be likened to Neil Young.
The next few tracks include a folk influenced two-step featuring predominant singing from lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey and another heavier guitar focused southern rock track called “Feud.” The album ends with a strongly classic country influenced ballad featuring lap steel leads followed by an epic highly produced anthem. The final song “Heartbreak on the 101” builds up slowly but as each layer of auxiliary percussion and orchestral strings unfolds the listener is treated to one of the most intricate songs on the album.
Overall Mirage Rock is everything longtime fans have expected. It blends the thick guitar tones and loose garage rock production of their first two albums with the more mature and tempered work of their last Grammy nominated release. Its slightly repetitive nature and strong country and folk influences are not for everyone but fans of country and rock alike should give it an honest listen. Band of Horses is bigger than ever and Mirage Rock is sure to garner them Grammy attention once again.