My previous exposure to Band of Horses hadn’t been entirely positive. Bar Ben Bridwell’s soaring, distinctive voice, the band had little about them which felt to me powerful or compelling. This was probably unfair on them – they reminded me of a reheated Jayhawks not after full consideration of their oeuvre, but upon snatched listens to snippets of songs. Americana, of course, is my thing; but there were other examples of it which grabbed me with more immediacy.
Their new record, however, is something a little different. Infinite Arms seems different to what I’ve heard before – lush and expansive, it deserves the label invented by Anna’s brother: ‘anthemic Americana’. Which is odd, because it’s in many ways quite a quiet record: single ‘Compliments’ and a few others (‘NW Apartment’, ‘Laredo’) boom and bang, but by and large there’s more of Mercury Rev’s majesty in the album’s 13 grand, orchestrated tracks: Opener ‘Factory’, with its string samples and dreamy melody line; ‘Blue Beard’, with its Fleet Foxes-inspired vocal introductions; ‘Evening Kitchen’ sounds just like its title. This is back porch music with some bells on.
Something about the depth of feeling, though, gives the album more gravitas than that might imply: a simple song like ‘Older’, a king of cross between Gram Parsons and the Beach Boys, is given a treatment which allows it to grow beyond its verse-and-chorus structure; closer ‘Neighbor’ has a cumulative power redolent of Bon Iver. And if all these comparators suggest Infinite Arms isn’t reinventing the wheel, that might be a fair conclusion; but, as with their storming live set at Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall on Monday, Band of Horses are playing to the crowd whilst also surprising them every other middle eight.
It worked for me.