As temperatures cool and leaves turn a pleasant washed-out gold, the early-fall release of Band of Horses’ Mirage Rock is nothing but timely. The distinctive, starry-eyed and lyrical indie rock vibe, carefully developed in the band’s last three albums, culminates in an effort that ventures into more echo-y, airy rock territory.
Lead singer Ben Bridwell’s honeyed whine belts out sensitive lyrics of love and loss, and the enigmatic ambivalence of his songwriting sits well with the current disorienting weather that straddles the fast days of summer and the nostalgia-filled days of winter and fall.
The opening track “Knock Knock” gives listeners a hint of what the album title “Mirage Rock” refers to: raw, anthem-like energy kept in check by pop-like melodic sweetness. The energetic hand claps and the catchy “ooh-ooh” falsettos permeating the refrain, “everything I want, and everything I’ll get,” mark a clear departure from Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “The Funeral” era. In “Knock Knock,” Band of Horses trades a wistful atmospheric sound that tugs repeatedly at your heartstrings for a tonality that’s a little rougher around the edges.
Yet the opening track of the album by no means sets up a strict path for the rest of the tracks to follow; the other songs defy expectations with several rousing and spirited tunes. “Slow Cruel Hands Of Time” trades insistent guitar riffs for an acoustic act highly redolent of the band’s earlier tunes; “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” exhibits strong hints of country influence and “How to Live” is deceptively more sinister: “I really didn’t need to suffer / Still did it anyway”.
Since Mirage Rock is a carefully engineered product of renowned English producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), it should not come as a surprise that the album draws its sounds from classic rock, as well as a multitude of eclectic influences. But this musical medley does not detract from the band’s ability to create seemingly effortless layers of harmonies, which are the album’s most cohesive and perhaps strongest element.
A band that departs from a tried-and-tested method always runs the risk of alienating listeners. Some fans may yearn for the wistful dreamers in Everything All The Time and Cease to Begin, but with the sheer variety Mirage Rock offers, old and new listeners alike are sure to find a song that perfectly accompanies the transition from muggy, sultry days into crisp, cool sweater weather.