Band of Horses

REVIEW: Band of Horses “Things Are Great”


Band of Horses — Things Are Great

Ever listen to a band casually for a number of years, then dive in to find out they’re something a bit different than what you’d had in your head? I had that experience when sitting down to listen to the new album from Band of Horses, Things Are Great. I’d long been familiar with their chime-y, indie guitar sound and Ben Bridwell’s canyon-echo vocals, but the amorphous nature of Bridwell’s songwriting is what grabbed me on this new record.

Change has always been inherent in Bridwell’s band, and new players are present on Things Are Great. Lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey and bass player Bill Reynolds departed in 2017, after the band’s previous record, Why Are You OK. Bassist Matt Gentling joins longtime members Ryan Monroe (keys and guitar) and Creightin Barrett (drums) to form a leaner Band of Horses without subtracting from the group’s wide-open sound. Lyrically, Bridwell’s songs touch upon topics and emotions while allowing listeners to fill in the blanks and establish touchstones with their own lives. Lead track “Warning Signs” deals with denying oneself what’s needed while building up to a dramatic chorus – “We don’t want help/We don’t take handouts/We won’t seek sympathy.” “Crutch,” a surprisingly bouncy, key-inflected nod to early 90s alternative, references any number of addictions – “Tablets in my pocket at the Easter soiree/Bouncing off the carpet in line for TSA” – with the clever tag line, “I’ve got a crutch on you.”

Band of Horses songs have ALWAYS been great road tunes (if you can’t enjoy “The Funeral” at full blast with the windows wide open, I can’t ever be in a car with you), but Things Are Great features a tune inspired by an actual roadie taken with Filter magazine writer Pat McGuire and photographer Brantley Gutierrez. “Coalinga” is, by both reputation and Bridwell’s lyrical testimony, a rather fragrant town in Central California – “the foul ass smelling hellhole” that nonetheless seems to be populated by decent, welcoming folks. It’s the kind of road trip where even the worst parts might someday become fond memories. 

Bridwell half-jokes that the connective tissue between all Band of Horses albums is that he’s “always complaining about something,” but like the best emotive music, it’s more about giving listeners the OK to feel…whatever they want to feel. “In The Hard Times” has a bluesy groove that makes it acceptable to wallow (and features a killer guitar solo). “In Need of Repair,” even with its uptempo (for BoH) jaunt, lives up to its title with the parenthetical retort, “Every single day I hide from hurt.” And “Lights” strays close to pop-punk while describing a night best kept a secret. And that’s the thing about a Band of Horses song – you don’t get answers to any of life’s great questions, but you might feel a little better about feeling bad. 

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Coalinga,” ideally played in a certain, similarly-fragrant Colorado town.

Things Are Great was produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman and Benjamin Bridwell, engineered by Zimmerman and Robert Cheek, mixed by D. Sardy and mastered by Stephen Marcussen. All songs were written by Bridwell, with co-writing credits going to Zimmerman, Ryan Monroe, Jason Lytle, Brantley Gutierrez, Harrison Kipner and Sam Farrar. Additional musicians on the album include Cheek (acoustic guitar), Zimmerman (guitar), Sardy (keys, guitar, tambourine, timpani, drums), Lytle (guitar, keys, percussion), Gutierrez (vocals), Ian McDougal (electric and acoustic guitar), Dave Fridmann (keys, organ) and Christian Chidester (electric guitar).

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