BAND OF HORSES – Infinite Arms (Columbia)

I’m a bit of a latecomer to Band Of Horses, this being their third album. As usual, a tiny NME article alerted me to them, and a quick investigation of their last album ‘Cease To Exist’ proved to be enough to add them to my ever-growing list of favourite bands. ‘Infinite Arms’ followed quickly, and is easily the equal of its predecessor, although to be honest there isn’t that much between them. The group are yet another outfit steeped in Americana, with an expansive sound and telling lyrics. First impressions lump them firmly in the Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev school of music, but after a few plays their individuality starts to shine through, and songs like ‘Compliments’ are very much their own. The band opens proceedings with the cavernous sound of ‘Factory’, while the aforementioned ‘Compliments’ is a pretty good attempt at a radio-friendly rocker. ‘Laredo’ layers guitar on guitar to produce a dense backing for some piercing guitar licks, while ‘Blue Beard’ reins it all back for a luxurious, harmony-drenched ballad. ‘Way Back Home’s acoustic delivery is obviously going to draw comparisons with Fleet Foxes, but that takes nothing away from the song itself, which is a joyous anticipation of returning home to your loved ones. The title track is the centrepiece of the album, and from the birdsong at the beginning through to the aching vocal, the effortlessly simple melody and the uplifting chorus, it is one of the best things the band has ever done. ‘Dilly’ sounds a bit lightweight, following on from that epic title track, but the band put the effort in, and it is a jaunty piece of commercial rock. ‘Evening Kitchen’ is more like it, another slowie which gives Ben Bridwell the chance to put his emotive vocal style to good use on this deceptively simple tune. The country rock of ‘Older’ is the most overt example yet of the band’s influences – The Band and The Byrds spring immediately to mind – but once again the song is totally their own, and one of my favourites on here. Bridwell’s tenor vocal on ‘Trudy’ brings back the Flaming Lips comparisons, but with the added bonus of some nice sitar-effect guitar-work. ‘Northwest Apartment’ is something of a departure for the band, with the great pounding guitars (oddly bringing to mind Doves apposite ‘Pounding’) and a driving beat deliver the most out and out rock track of the album, while ‘Bartles + James’ winds things down nicely with a gentle keyboards/vocal duet that suddenly erupts in a frenzy of guitar towards the end. . So, Band Of Horses have come from nowhere (for me, at least), to produce a superb album of classic American rock. Having also heard their previous work I can safely say that this is no fluke, so it is now a case of seeing what they can come up with to top this one.