With lineup change can come musical change, and such is the case on Band of Horses’s sophomore full-length Cease to Begin. When Mat Brooke left the band in 2006 to devote more energy to his other project (and Band of Horses’s labelmate) Grand Archives, the band lost the songwriting partnership of Brooke and Ben Bridwell that dated back to the late ’90s. 2006’s Everything All the Time broke through as an acclaimed work, and Cease to Begin retains the core melodic rock elements but lacks that album’s power.
With guitarist Brooke gone, the band compensates with more diversity of instrumentation. On “The General Specific,” the raucously strummed acoustic guitar is present but the piano is the focal point, even soloing near the end. The instrumentation of “Marry Song” completely leaves the guitar out and is limited to light drums and the resonating hum of an organ. Other songs, like “Ode to LRC,” keep the guitar driving the tune but still depend on organ and piano to fill out the sound.
There is also an increased prevalence of country twang. Possibly a result of the band’s relocation from Washington to the members’ South Carolina roots, hints of crossover’s common offenders, like steel guitar and banjo on Everything’s “Monsters,” are expanded on songs like “The General Specific.” The beat is a group of people stomping and clapping, conjuring a rowdy bar for the acoustic guitar and piano to joyfully lead.
The more peaceful “Marry Song” features a trio of Bridwell’s voices crooning in harmony and constantly raising the pitches at the end of phrases, giving a Western feel to it. Whereas on Everything Brooke might have done backup vocals, the layering of Bridwell’s reverb-drenched voice can distract from the music instead of add to it.
On the whole, Bridwell’s voice is the same high pitched howl that has drawn constant comparisons to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Bridwell details everyday goings-on with lyrics about small town life and love and loss, all incorporating the idea of sight.
“Ode to LRC” combines all of these themes, beginning with him putting his “focals” on to read some stories, “and all is calm.” He mentions a dog that used to come there to eat, but mourns, “That dog he don’t come around anymore / No, no, the dog is gone / The dog is gone.” This somber tone changes when Bridwell ecstatically concludes, “The world is such a wonderful place / La di da.” The lyrical change of story to plain observation is evident elsewhere on the record, as is Bridwell’s abandonment of words to opt for nonsensical harmonic sounds.
Fortunately, the band doesn’t forget that harmonic sound and thunderous guitar-driven rock are not mutually exclusive. The album’s opener, “Is There a Ghost,” begins with bare vocals and guitar till the rest of the band soon joins in, beating the same note as they crescendo into one rapid, furious sound for Bridwell’s voice to soar above. “Island on the Coast,” on the other hand, features the band rocking while all playing very different riffs.
On these tracks and others, Band of Horses preserves the chemistry and intensity of Everything, but it’s too often weighed down by unremarkable, mid-tempo music that neither reaches the quiet intimacy nor the concentrated rock of that album.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Band of Horses
Cease to Begin