“Things Are Great” is a phrase one would hope to say in earnest. Band of Horses takes this oftentimes genuine sentence and wields it as a weapon of denial. If fans are having a hard time letting go of 1978, this is the ideal release to listen and feel to, especially when it comes to “Warning Signs.” The entire album is thick with nostalgia, guitar and timeless vocals. This may read like too much of a deviation from their 2016 project titled “Why Are You OK.” However, it’s not a new sound entirely.
“Things Are Great” steps back in time as an homage to earlier albums and brutal emotional honesty. The one and only full-time member and lead singer Ben Bridwell once again brings his classic sound to each track, alongside the instrumental help of Creighton Barrett, Ryan Monroe, Matt Gentling and Ian MacDougall. For all of its changes in membership, Band of Horses manages a cohesive, memorable sound in every chapter and turnover of their most recent sonic escapade.
The classic sound of Bridwell’s vocals is an incredibly welcome melody after their six-year album hiatus. He starts off as strong as ever on the opening track, “Warning Signs.” Right off the bat, the opening guitar chords ring out just as iconically as those in “Somebody New” by Joywave and “Decode” by Paramore. Devoted listeners of “Can I Call You Tonight?” by Dayglow will also be in for a pleasant and surprising familiarity, though not a direct sample.
These similarities are a sure sign of a standout indie rock song and overall “Things Are Great” album. Better yet, the intensity of the instrumentals does not fade into the background throughout the nine remaining tracks. They succeed in bolstering the vocals for the entirety of the 41-minute album experience.
Not only do the instrumentals elevate the vocals of Bridwell, but they highlight the lyrics as well. The bright, folk-leaning voice is a near trojan horse for a host of dark and desperate phrases. “Aftermath” opens on the lines — “I brought you back / Lost myself in you in the aftermath / And what’s worse than that / I was falling asleep dead in the bath.”
Without listening closely, one would guess that Bridwell was singing more about love than death. His optimistic tone of voice does not give way to thoughts about such weighty topics. Upon further listening, it is clear that this song is about loss, difficult relationships and hurt.
The preceding track, “In Need of Repair,” contains much of the same sentiments about brokenness and pain. Blatant devastation turns into storytelling with “Lights” and “Ice Night We’re Having.” Coming of age and living in the past, respectively, seem to dictate the entirety of each song. “Ice Night We’re Having” stands still in the line which muses — “I’ll keep living in the frame where you left me, love.”
The denial at least comes to an end in “You Are Nice To Me.” Feelings of pain and hard times are undoubtedly acknowledged. The lying ceases in order to reveal a diatribe of truth and unbridled raw emotion. Bridwell sings, “I’m unwell, I’m unhappy all the time / I couldn’t hide it.”
Here, Band of Horses reveals that denial in this album comes in the form of lies you tell yourself. Others can see this struggle, but the owner cannot accept it. This triumph of realization leads to a trip to “Coalinga,” although it seems like an unwanted journey. This song is a stand-in for owning and processing a tough, “foul … smelling” truth. It’s about being in a place one does not want to be and not having much of a say about it. You’re stuck, but you know it’s necessary – par for the course. If you are directionless, the best road map is a project like “Things Are Great.”
We’ve all been there, so let’s not be alone in it. Listen along with like-minded indie folks instead.