Prepare thyselves lovers of great Amerockana, your new saviors have arrived. They come in the form of Band of Horses, a relatively new Seattle-based group largely composed of former members of Carissa's Wierd. While that earlier band resolutely held to a restrained, delicate approach (and the resulting obscurity assured to such practice), this new incarnation has no reservations about rocking the house when need be. I predict that this will help easily place them in the upper echelons of indie rock and possibly break them to a wider audience.
The key component here is the vocals of Ben Bridwell. A gorgeous countertenor in the vein of James Mercer (The Shins) or Jim James (My Morning Jacket), it was hard for me not to break into a goofy grin when I first heard it enter the fray on "The First Song." Appropriately soaked in reverb, his voice conveys an undeniable vitality and exuberance even on the more melancholy tracks like "Part One," "I Go to the Barn Because I Like the," "Monsters," and "St. Augustine." This is an essential ingredient in making the sadder songs less depressing and more affirming. Still, my favorite moments are the ones that edge closer to rock-mode Springsteen, like "Weed Party."
To focus exclusively on Bridwell's voice would be a mistake, though, as the songwriting and musicianship are great strengths for the band as well. The songs are often patiently mid-tempo, but this never means uninteresting. The guitars alternately shimmer for more shoegazer moments and intricately amble for folk effect. The rhythm section excels at providing a solid backbone for the songs without ever overplaying. Not to mention the masterful production and mixing treatment that makes this album shine like a newly-polished gem. It's as stunning a debut as I've heard in a long time, and it signals that we'll be hearing a lot from these folks for years to come.
1. The First Song
2. Wicked Gil
3. Our Swords
4. The Funeral
5. Part One
6. The Great Salt Lake
7. Weed Party
8. I Got to the Barn Because I Like the
10. St. Augustine