Band of Horses – Everything All the Time

Band of Horses
Everything All the Time

I was listening to Band of Horses’ debut album, Everything All the Time, on my way out of the building today. I opened the third-floor door and walked onto the landing, and I was met with a vista of snow falling lackadaisically on the world below, just as “The Great Salt Lake” reached its shimmering climax. I was struck with that rare feeling of the most satisfying organic unity – the world, normally so disordered and senseless, offered to me today a moment of perfect harmony, where everything seemed to coalesce into one irreducible truth. Everything that was there belonged, and everything that belonged was there.

Whether I can attribute this solely to the quality of Band of Horse’s music is not the point. And I’m not trying to suggest that the band’s music will help you to make sense of the world. But Band of Horses does contain a singular – but intangible – feature, that unspeakable quality that makes us love a work of art, even if we can’t say exactly why.

As for the music itself, there is nothing exceptional about it – that is to say, it is not shockingly original. In fact, the immediate comparisons that vocalist Ben Bridwell will draw are unavoidable (beyond that of his and other members’ former band, Carissa’s Wierd). He is an almost perfect blend between The Shins’ James Mercer and Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame. The music is grandiose rock, but of a delicate variety; huge guitar strums are softened by gossamer plucking and the shimmering production. Indeed, the album assumes an ethereal distance that is extremely effective. The band is passionately disaffected; the mostly even-tempered melodies betray an intense, effervescent passion bubbling just below the surface.

The album as a whole is suffused with a sort of stoic acceptance – equal parts melancholy and defiant optimism. “I know evil people will say things / they don’t know,” chimes Bridwell in “Wicked Gil,” before shrugging it off with a Zen-like “oh-oh.” On the anthemic track “The Funeral,” Bridwell sings, “At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral.” What sounds on paper like defeatist resignation comes across as a beautiful statement of will, defying tragedy and its ill effects. As the “oohs” rise higher and higher above the fray of larger-than-life chords, the most rewarding kind of catharsis clears any sour taste of melancholy from the tongue.

The aforementioned “The Great Salt Lake” is one of the must fully realized tracks on the album. The boys of Band of Horses show their prodigal understanding of and feel for nuance, as the band switches pitch and tempo with tact and effortlessly pull of the kind of crescendo to which many bands aspire for their entire career. “Monsters” clearly communicates the kind of stoicism I suggested earlier; “If I am lost, it is only for a little while,” sings Bridwell, over triumphantly strumming guitars. I’ve got images of a marching band of angels trumpeting some sort of divine truth, but then I’ve always been prone to over-enthusiasm.

A lot of bands have, over time, released excellent debut albums, and they are most often praised for their technical ability or their songwriting. Band of Horses possesses both of these in spades, but what makes them truly exceptional is their gift for realizing a fully-fledged affect – in other words, a feel to their music that distinguishes it from that of any other band. Band of Horses is ethereal, otherworldly, and completely inimitable, and listening to Everything All the Time is, in the truest sense of the word, an experience.

After all of its sweeping gestures, the record closes with the spotless pop of “St. Augustine.” The perfect vocal harmonization carries the album quietly off into the ether, and all that’s left is me, the world below, and the snow falling softly from somewhere above.