Band of Horses now rest in the hands of South Carolina tenant Ben Bridwell following the departure of his right-hand man Mat Brooke, who bolted to form Grand Archives following the 2006 inauguration Everything All the Time, and the impassioned Bridwell validates out of the blocks, leading off the follow-up album with "Is There a Ghost," an exquisite chunk of pure-pop bliss. With a voice that lands somewhere between the euphoria of Brian Wilson and the anguish of the late Chris Bell (Big Star), Bridwell (and core mates Rob Hampton and Creighton Barrett) appears a modern archetype behind a playlist that teeters among tender ("No One's Gonna Love Me," "Window Blues"), twang ("Marry Song," "Detlef Schrempf"), and turbulent ("Cigarettes, Wedding Bands," the aforementioned "Is There a Ghost"). Using the same producer and regal m.o. as on the debut, Cease punctuates its magnitude among Sub Pop's top-drawer power elite (The Shins and Iron & Wine), asserting this Band of Horses' fast-rising run for the roses. --Scott Holter
Review by Andrew Leahey
When Band of Horses surfaced in 2006 with the cathartic Everything All the Time, the band's rugged take on rock & roll drew quick parallels to My Morning Jacket and early Neil Young. That's mighty nice company for a young band, but co-founder Mat Brooke nevertheless left the lineup that same summer, choosing to blaze his own trail with Grand Archives instead. Ben Bridwell, Brooke's musical cohort for nearly a decade, was left in control of Horses -- a daunting position for the former Carissa's Weird bassist, but one that ultimately resulted in a sophisticated, mature, and altogether superior follow-up. Cease to Begin is the responsible adult to Time's reckless teenager, with Bridwell pitting his high, clear tenor against backdrops of swirling indie rock and campfire singalongs. While tracks like "Weed Party" showed the band having harmless (albeit vaguely adolescent) fun on their debut, the good times on Cease to Begin are more grown-up: a lo-fi, foot-stomping pop ditty ("The General Specific"), a brief interlude of instrumental watercolors ("Lamb on the Lam [In the City]"), a foray into twangy country ("Marry Song"). Those looking for more anthemic rock will gravitate toward kickoff track "Is There a Ghost," where the guitars are loud and Bridwell's vocals are candy-coated in thick reverb, but Cease to Begin shines it brightest under the twilight glow of "Detlef Schrempf." Historically, Schrempf was a German-born NBA basketball player with killer three-point accuracy -- and while that's certainly an odd choice for a song title, it's easy to forget as drums beat an appealingly lazy rhythm beneath Bridwell's falsetto. Who knows whether he's singing to a hometown, a loved one, or his favorite member of the Seattle SuperSonics? It's still a thrilling listen, and the subtle humor hints that Band of Horses isn't growing up too quickly.
Band of Horses
Cease to Begin
[Sub Pop; 2007]
Following the success of their debut Everything All the Time and the subsequent departure of founding member Mat Brooke, the remaining members of Band of Horses moved from Seattle to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and set to recording their follow-up, Cease to Begin, in Asheville. Thousands of land-locked miles from the Great Salt Lake, this cross-country change of scenery is subtly apparent: If Everything All the Time was a Pacific Northwest indie album with flourishes of country and Southern rock, then Cease to Begin reverses the equation. Putting a different regional spin on their tender-hearted indie rock, however, doesn't change up the sound too much-- the guitars still churn and crest majestically, Bridwell's vocals still echo with grandiose reverb-- but simply creates an atmosphere evocative of something like autumn in a small town.
This geographical move and musical development both seem like logical progressions for Band of Horses, and not just because Bridwell originally hails from the South. The trio sounds more at home on Cease to Begin, and more confident writing about this specific neck of the woods. As a result, they shed many of the comparisons that dogged Everything All the Time last year: Every review had to mention the Shins, My Morning Jacket, or the Flaming Lips (me: guilty). Cease to Begin finds them opening up their sound, drawing in more ideas and giving the music the loping quality of a long walk down a dirt road.
As crunchy guitars give way to light strings on "Ode to LRC", Bridwell sings about a stray dog and a "town so small how could anybody not look you in the eye or wave as I drive by." He's one of few indie artists who can sell a line like "the world is such a wonderful place" or get away with singing "la-dee-da" with open-hearted amazement. On "Detlef Schrempf", for example, he sings, with heartfelt gravity, "Watch how you treat every living soul," and still somehow sounds bold and genuine.
On the other hand, Cease to Begin's looser vibe preempts the big moments that gave Everything All the Time its gravity. Listeners looking for another "Funeral" or "Great Salt Lake" may come away disappointed, making do with only the airborne rush of opener "Is There a Ghost". These songs go for texture and shade over size and scale, an admirable shift even if Band of Horses don't always pull it off. On "Cigarettes Wedding Band", they can't churn up enough bile to convey Bridwell's bitter lyrics; instead of contrasting the album's sweet-tea tone, the song simply reflects it, revealing the limits of their range. Still, Bridwell does accomplish the nifty trick of turning an accusation into a formidable pop hook: "While they lied-dee-die! Lah-dee-dah! While they lied!"
As they move southeasterly, Band of Horses may bear some derision as dad-rock at best, or as granola at worst. And yes, there are moments here that support those stereotypes: The sequencing of two downtempo ballads ("No One's Gonna Love You", "Detlef Schrempf") slows the album's first half almost to a halt. But even if Cease to Begin is a little creaky and uneven and even if it never finds the resting spot the album title promises, Band of Horses do guitar-based indie very well-- well enough, at least, that the next generation of American indie bands may bear comparisons to them. The album closes with "Window Blues", a slow, aching number that fades into a simple "Rainbow Connection" banjo outro that gives the album a snowglobe quality, despite the warmer Carolina climate. These songs depict a personal world in great detail, contained within a small space. Sure, Band of Horses could stand to shake it up a bit, but for now Bridwell seems content just to enjoy the view.
-Stephen M. Deusner, October 08, 2007