Writing at Home: Band of Horses Arrives Back in a State of Effortless Warmth and Gripping Nostalgia
Band of Horses, from this writer’s hometown right here in Charleston, SC, is a slated favorite for classic track “Funeral,” which premiered on debut 2006 disc Everything All The Time. Yet, the gap years in between, which include four discs (one was a live acoustic album at The Ryman) have left Band of Horses high and dry. Now, in 2016, Why Are You OK appears as a solemn disc full of rhetorical questions and nostalgic stories surfacing during this fight between finding and losing oneself through it all.
Unlike previous records, this one was written while songwriter Ben Bridwell was at home with family instead of his typical headspace in seclusion. This, along with the collaboration with new producer , Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, create a warmth that might be missing from the last decade. Though lyrically the disc arrives at some preempted cliches, they hold true and are bolstered with a variety of effortless drift rock and some sentimental voicemail messages added in for extra nostalgia.
“Dull Times/The Moon” starts things off with a warm mellow trance lullaby, incorporating some soft, introspective lyrics and sonic layers with an expert ease. “What’s your life like with all that you’ve done?” is the first question, leading into, “Filthy room, guitars out of tune,” which is reflected sonically with a hazed-out, smooth sonic misstep. “Home is where my heart is” is the ultimate sentiment that is reached before a guitar segment that leads into a rugged rock portion. Cliche, but worth a 7-minute listen.
“Solemn Oath” is the leading pop rock track, with a catchy rhythm and some floating, somewhat strained vocals along with a wavy electric guitar shining beneath lyric-less yet catchy vocal layers. “Hag” slows things down a bit and keeps up the questions, pleading and internalizing, “But are we really in love? Completely in love?…If I’m not at the point at carrying on, why spend half the time indifferent and the other half alone?”
“Casual Party” switches things up with some light and danceable pop beats and a guitar riff that takes us back to the early 2000s. This track really puts you in a place and then takes you out of it just as easily, dragging you along at the party until you ditch and bask in the freedom of a curfew-less teenage night with your best friends.
“In a Drawer” then begins with some thick, melodic guitarwork matched with a love ballad that may serve as one of the best tracks that Band of Horses has released in years. One can’t discount the surfy bass and tinny drum machine serving as the rhythmic staple to breezy guitar layers. “Darling, you know it shouldn’t be like that. Can I go with you to the laundromat?” brings us back to puppy love and making memories together in the most monotonous of places. “Remembering a time long gone,” Bridwell announces before a female voice then echoes, “Do you love me baby, do you love me?” The nostalgia is gripping.
“Lying Under the Oak” tells a love story saddled with an overwhelming bittersweet emotion, while “Throw My Mess” is a stompy ode to Southern roots with heavy drums and some banjo plucking. “Whatever, Wherever” floats hazily like a summer daydream, and then standout slow track “Barrel House” conveys a dark sadness in compelling imagery. “Shifting a chair on the porch for a better position to enjoy the warmth of the sun to keep warm. Working the needle and twine, lost in the furthest recess of the mind. It is calm. There is peace. A cat on his lap and a dog at her feet. But oh, the heart of a man, the secrets they bury within.” It all arrives at an open-ended conclusion in the last track. “I could just leave.”