Review Summary: Band of Horses overcome lineup shifts and avoid the sophomore slump.
Coming little over a year after Band of Horses’ debut Everything All the Time
, Cease to Begin
has plenty to live up to. Their debut earned them a flurry of internet buzz, high profile opening tours for The Decemberists and Modest Mouse, and that album even managed to produce a truly excellent single “The Funeral”, which became something of a minor hit. Fortunately, even with the loss of founding guitarist Mat Brooke, Cease to Begin
builds on their debuts strengths, while mostly omitting its sometimes glaring weaknesses. The tenants of their sound remains the same: reverb drenched vocals that recall Neil Young and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and crashing guitars bathed in gentle organ.
Cease to Begin
spends most of its time with catchy slices of southern rock tinged indie pop. Songs like the joyous opener “Is There a Ghost” and the bouncing “Islands on the Coast” float along joyous melodies and melodic guitar riffs, while Bridwell and Rob Hampton’s guitars crash and ebb like waves on “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”. Much has been made of the bands move from Seattle to South Carolina (the album comes with a collection of photos from their new home Mount Pleasant), and it’s easy to compare that to the southern rock that tugs around the edges of the album. “The General Specific” is an old time piano stomper and the weepy, peddle steel assisted “Window Blues” is the closest they’ve come to Harvest era Neil Young, but also one of their finest songs.
Sadly, Bridwell’s lyrical shortcomings remain a problem. It’s unfortunate that under his towering croon all that’s found is lines like “The world is such a wonderful place to be”. But that same croon makes it easier to forgive lines like that, as well as a pair of dull ballads “Detlef Schrempf”, which will no doubt end up soundtracking a montage on Grey’s Anatomy and “Marry Song”, an aimless electric piano led rumination. Both songs pale in comparison to the pastoral beautiful of “No One’s Gonna Love You”, easily the best song found here.
While Cease to Begin
may not have any tracks that match the instant highs of “The Funeral” or “The First Song”, it is certainly more consistent. And as a number of songs (namely “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”, “No Ones Gonna Love You” and “Window Blues”) prove, Ben Bridwell can write some pretty great songs without Mat Brooke. Cease to Begin
is certainly not perfect, but it shows that Band of Horses is here to stay. For now, that’s a good thing.