CD Review

Band of Horses, Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)

When Band of Horses debuted with last year's Everything All the Time, even the most glowing press and word-of-mouth couldn't help but mention the album's eerie familiarity to My Morning Jacket, Neil Young, Built to Spill and the Flaming Lips. But damned if Ben Bridwell and co.'s dewy, reverb-hung country rock doesn't feel magical all the same.

On Cease to Begin, Band of Horses continue to channel the best parts of all of the above into one irresistible whole. And yet it's much more varied than Everything, which, despite its strengths, got same-y fairly fast. Here, the band amplifies its alchemy of majestic indie rock and rumpled twang, wavering in the sun with effects-drenched guitars and towed by a woolly rhythm section, but now achieving sharper pop choruses, more convincing tinges of folk and bluegrass, and deeper forays into shadows.

As before, Bridwell's voice is pushed to the forefront so it entirely fills the room. He still yelps like MMJ's Jim James and punches certain words like James Mercer—it's not just the reverb talking—but he's come into his own, especially when throwing himself into the country catharsis of "Marry Song." That tune could comprise a country-themed trilogy with the blissfully adrift "Window Blues" and the saloon-style romp of "The General Specific," the best thing Bridwell's written since "The Funeral." Despite its Tammy Wynette-worthy title, "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" is downcast rock, striking out into darker territory than earlier entries "Is There a Ghost" and "Ode to LRC."

There's a real consistency throughout the album, despite the wider range of textures, and Bridwell's forlorn lyrics and pathos-laden singing draw us in further still. In fact, with just 10 songs, Cease to Begin leaves us wanting more.

 
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