Review Summary: Mirage Rock is a lifeless expression of longing that fails to be remotely compelling.
It's always a shame to see a promising band stumble. It's even more disheartening to see a band fall flat on its face. Band of Horses attracted considerable attention and praise with their bittersweet debut Everything All the Time
, but since then its original members have been dropping off like flies. Although Ben Bridwell remains the frontman of this Southern rock outfit, it's fair to say that the band we knew from the first couple of albums is completely gone. Mirage Rock
proves an insipid body of work, lacking the heart and soul that kept the band barely free from the clutches of mediocrity. Now, this mediocrity has the band in a chokehold, and the band's poor execution is nothing short of pitiful.
With Mirage Rock
, Bridwell and his companions have displayed an intent to burrow deeper into their Americana roots, which theoretically should not even be a problem. However, in doing so, they sacrifice their vitality for a sound that is pleasantly mellow but painfully uninspired. Band of Horses seem to have disemboweled themselves, unhanding all of their best attributes. On previous records, Bridwell's vocals were a major selling point. They would glide above the guitars with sheer ecstasy and candor. Now, his vocals do nothing to tug at the listener's emotions and remain fastened to the ground only to sit idly beside the bland instrumentation. Like the vocals, the instruments fail to ascend, ensuring that the entire musical experience is strictly elementary and boring. On this album, picking on the drums seems almost too easy, but on tracks like "Electric Music", "Feud", and "A Little Biblical", they serve little to no purpose aside from acting as a metronome. You know a record is not resonating when you are waiting anxiously for a single fill to break the steady chain of tedium.
Most of the songs on here are what you might expect from an exhausted group of musicians. They are mildly agreeable and innocuous but ultimately forgettable and free of any excitement whatsoever. The opening track and lead single "Knock Knock" might be the worst offense on here with a cookie-cutter chorus that overstays its welcome. For the most part, this album moves incredibly slowly and finds itself stuck in a rut. Its lethargic pace practically begs for a spur, something to engage the listener, yet waiting for that turning point is setting oneself up for severe disappointment. The only tracks that really interest me personally are "How to Live", "Slow Cruel Hands of Time" and "Shut-in Tourist", and even on "Shut-in Tourist" it feels like the band is too timid to expose themselves where a robust guitar coda may have been fitting.
Then again, a song like "Dumpster World", one of the album's worst songs, is enough to make one disown any wishes for the band to try to mirror their past work. Once the electric guitar enters the landscape, the band tries desperately to feign edginess and instead comes across as crass. Plus, lyrics like "Don't pick up that trash. Put more of it on the ground. Bust out the drugs." sound like they were written by an irreverent, naive schoolboy. As a result, their attempt at vitriolic social commentary backfires. Mirage Rock
does feel like an earnest record though. The music is saturated with the same wistful undertones that have always made the band mildly appealing. However, this time around these qualities feel as though they have significantly aged, and the musical impact suffers because of it.
The album quickly shrivels up as a harmlessly banal effort. The group's unimaginative tracks are too thin to house any discernible emotional release. Instead, it sounds like a band going through the motions, displaying no motivation as it sluggishly staggers along. So if you want some sleepy background music to play on your porch, Mirage Rock
might be for you, but if you want something gripping or consequential, you're better off looking the other way.
How to Live
Slow Cruel Hands of Time