Band of Horses sure have been around. Going through a number of line up changes over the years, the bands’ movement and dynamism across America led to their second album; the 2007 release of Cease to Begin which was a powerful piece of emotive indie rock. Followed up by the calmer, but still impassioned Infinite Arms, the band’s geography is almost audible in their music. The impression is that of a band that were dragged from the country, found that urban living was actually rather fun, before deciding to settle in the suburbs somewhere. Now Mirage Rock sees the band reminiscing about the past, somewhere quiet and untroubled and this presents problems.
Everything is far too soft and, dare I say it, pleasant. On ‘Knock Knock’ Ben Bridwell’s previously enigamtic voice is sadly lost as the track drags on in a rather uninspired way. While the instumentation tries to make up for this in a rather generic way, the lack of energy makes it an odd choice for a single. It becomes clear that the driving melodies and subtle infusions of excitement which made Band of Horses stand out before, tend to be somewhat missing. Yes, the album is smooth and consistent, but in the way that a piece of Ikea furniture is. It’s rather forgettable. There’s painfully little to drag you into the album, as there are more than a few nods to the country music background from which they broke free, and it sounds rather dreary.
It’s not all gloomy though. ‘A Little Bibical’ sees the band rekindle elements of their bold Americana, with a neat guitar riff and slightly more urgent percussive beats resulting in a gutsy, low-fi track. Yet the band quickly reel this back in; ‘Shut-In Tourist’ sounds like Fleet Foxes filler and meanders like an old river, simply trying to reach the end. You get the impression that Band of Horses were close to creating a great, dynamic record but instead, they’ve played it safe. After Infinite Arms they went back into their shell, and they haven’t come out again.
‘Dumpster World’ summarises the album perfectly. Beginning with some playful, but not particulary exciting jazz murmurs, the song trundles along quietly. Yet a one minute-long piece of prime Band of Horses grunge rock gives you hope for something more, but is dashed almost as quickly as it started.
It’s a flawed comeback, as the band’s stripped back approach fails to engage and sounds devoid of much of the elegant drama that was central to previous successes.