Cease to Begin

Band: Band of Horses
Album: Cease to Begin
Best song: “No One’s Gonna Love You” is gorgeous.
Worst song: “The General Specific” is just a mediocre song.

There are no real ways around it, but not every band can be Battles. Rock and roll is a largely derivative form and the ability to create quality music is one that we value highly. Sadly, when one does that inexplicably while nearly entirely painting within the proverbial numbers, a backlash occurs.

Band of Horses has been the subject of a tidy little dustup within critical circles, largely because the band does play straight up rock and roll. Taking something from the Shins and Hold Steady, the Sub Pop rockers rely on stringy guitars, easy keyboards and a distinct nasal drone for some pretty typical rock and roll.

Indeed, Band of Horses are similar to Sub Pop labelmates the Shins in that none of their sound is new, dramatic or — well, I’ll say it — interesting. It’s repetition of form; There’s little country influence. Where the band lacks in poetic lyrics — the Shins ahve that in spades — the band makes up in pure heart.

Cease to Begin is decidedly earnest in both lyric and music. The album’s highlights are either hard-drivers or sweet appegiated strained love songs. It’s simple in its arrangements –keyboards, a simple vocal line, guitars and drums — with nary a machine playing notes.

Indeed, the album begins with a sweet-sounding driver on fear and sleep, “Is There a Ghost” that ends with a strong guitar line moving into a more upbeat “Ode to LRC.” “Marry Song” falls later in the album, but slowly mirrors the sweetness of the album, with a slight twang to Ben Bridwell’s vocals falling over the organ riff. Of course, followed is the opening cacophony (cacophony is relative, of course, this is Band of Horses) of the opposing lyric of “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands.” As Bridwell recounts the dissipation of a relationship, his voice cracks slightly.

“Detlef Schrempf” — named after the famous German basketball player — is the type of music Zack Braff shits himself for (and I mean that as a compliment). The song is, no doubt, gorgeous, with its layered guitars, easily mic’d drums and Bridwell’s pleasant voice. “Islands on the Coast” takes from Superchunk and Beachwood Sparks equally, with the band emphasizing a tempo slowdown between verses.

The album’s highlight, of course, is the second-best (behind Iron & Wine’s brilliant “Boy With a Coin”) song of 2007 is “No One’s Gonna Love You.” The song’s slow tempo backs up it somber tone, as Bridwell sings a tempered, yet sad breakup song:

When things start splitting at the seams and now
The whole thing’s tumbling down
Things start splitting at the seams and now
If things start splitting at the seams and now,
It’s tumbling down

Like the best of Elliott Smith and Ben Gibbard, the everyday lyricism in Bridwell’s lyrics are delivered only as he can: With a sharp falsetto and a tender low range. The guitars mirror his voice with reverbed picked chords. A steady off-military 4/4 beat makes the song move, but, really, the vocal is the star of the song:

Is Band of Horses the best band that ever was? Of course not. Like Coldplay’s place on the RS500 list or my own fandom of the Shins, Band of Horses does a very good job at being a rock band. They don’t bend any rules, they don’t break any new ground. But, they’re good. Real good.

Cease to Begin is good. Real good.

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