Album Review: Band of Horses, "Infinite Arms"

I didn't want to like Band of Horses.

My then-girlfriend-now-wife introduced them to me by way of the song "Funeral."  I thought it was nice enough, but reminded me of the The Shins a bit too much, so I decided they were unworthy of my precious musical time.  Besides, my then-girlfriend-now-wife had discovered them, and I had a tendency to make all new music mine, so I wanted to let her have this one.

She didn't really care.

I heard a few more songs by Band of Horses and soon they no longer sounded like The Shins to me.  Their simplicity appealed to me.  "Is There A Ghost" has a chorus that consists of two chords!  There was just something so endearing about their music.

"Infinite Arms" pushes and pulls Band of Horses, sometimes taking them forward, sometimes reeling them back, neither approach a complete success, yet neither a complete failure, either.  It's easy to see why, as Brian Bridwell's band has undergone multiple line-up changes since he started it.  So while it might be trite to say, there's basis beyond the music for why this feels like a band in transition.  But they manage to push through their growing pains while still producing a pretty great record.

"Infinite Arms" opens with "Factory," a concentrated dose of everything to love about Band of Horses.  The song could be off any of their records, and could probably work nicely in a mash-up of their previous work.  The second track is "Compliments," and this is when the first hints of greatness come through.  Aside from Bridwell's alternatingly abstract and specific lyrics, there's the fantastic bass line that runs through the chorus.  This song sticks with you from first listen.

There are a few moments on "Infinite Arms" when Band of Horses pushes the limits of believable earnestness.  They start to wander into the "my woman left me and my dog is dead" territory, both lyrically and musically.  "Laredo" is a good example of this, but it's outdone by "Blue Beard," which doesn't seem to be able to decide if it's a country music song or an AM gold 70's hit.  Note to songwriters: rolling the dice is never a good image.  Never.

"On My Way Back Home" takes us back to classic, "Funeral" style Band of Horses.  It's a great song that builds nicely all the way through.  Going back home, while totally cliche, makes for a much better story than, say, rolling the dice.

There are two songs that deserve special note on "Infinite Arms."  The first is "Dilly," an absolutely fantastic song featuring a Strokes-esque guitar line and a borderline disgustingly sweet vocal line.  I say "borderline," because Bridwell manages to walk that line without going over the top, and the song is unforgettable because of it.

Then there's "Older," far more in the folk vein than most of the other songs on the record, and sung by Ryan Monroe, with backing vocals by Bridwell.  Is this an indication that this iteration of Band of Horses might stick together for a while?

"Infinite Arms" is a great addition to the Band of Horses catalog.  I'm looking forward to seeing where this album takes them.