Band of Horses 

Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)

Band of Horses’ ubiquitous, melancholy single, ‘The Funeral’, wrongly earned them a reputation as sad sacks. In fact, their debut,Everything All the Time, was warm and hopeful underneath all that reverb. Their follow-up, Cease to Begin, wears that optimism on its sleeve with a noticeably brighter, clearer tone. Unfortunately, in shifting slightly away from their trademark lush arrangements, the band exposes some of the weaknesses in their songwriting. 

Cease opens strong with the charging, anthemic ‘Is There a Ghost’— a cyclical, repetitive track with no real verse or bridge. Front-man/songwriter Ben Bridwell’s voice is as open as ever and the melody is (pun alert!) haunting, but there’s a feeling that the song is building up to a climax that it never reaches. Breezing through ten tracks in just 35 minutes, the album quickly starts to feel disjointed and unambitious. ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, a part of the band’s live set for a while now, is emo-pretty but suffers from breakup-song truisms (“things start tumbling down,” “no one’s gonna love you more than I do”). The whirling guitar intro to ‘Island on the Coast’ is promising, but the song runs itself into the ground without really going anywhere. Somehow these tracks don’t quite pack the visceral punch of songs like ‘The Great Salt Lake’ or ‘Monsters’, from Everything All the Time.

But when you think about it, their debut owed much of its success to its arresting, cohesive mood rather than compelling lyrics or storytelling. Bridwell’s caterwauling vocals were sometimes unintelligible behind all that beautiful, thick noise; the lyrics were obscured, but the sheer feeling of the song still inspired an emotional response.  As a whole, Cease to Begin has a less singular, less uniform sound, leaving listeners to fruitlessly search the lyrics of each song for something to connect with. 

Still, there’s no denying that this is a very listenable — though decidedly not risk-taking — album. The standout track, ‘The General Specific’, is unabashedly jubilant and freewheeling, setting itself apart with raucous, bluesy piano and handclaps. For a band that’s supposed to be downcast, they seem to have the most fun with this one; consequently, so do we.

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