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Band of Horses: First impressions of Mirage Rock

Album peppiest record yet, even with nods to '70s soft rock

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Although the Band of Horses’ latest album Mirage Rock doesn’t drop until Sept. 18, the Charleston City Paper scored an advance copy of this highly anticipated disc from Charleston’s indie rock heroes. Here’s what two City Paper staffers had to say about Mirage Rock.

Ben Bridwell channels Cat Stevens

One of the things I appreciated about Band of Horses’ last album, 2010’s Infinite Arms, was the mystery in the lyrics. You got the sense that singer Ben Bridwell was telling some deeply personal stories, but you couldn’t put your finger on exactly what had happened. There was an awkward encounter in a hotel elevator, a romantic memory triggered by a pack of Now and Laters, and something about putting “a bullet in my Kia Lorenzo/a kitchen knife up to my face.” The narratives were never crystal-clear, but the details worked as impressionism.

I’ve been listening to Mirage Rock all week, and I just don’t hear that sort of songwriting anymore. In its place, there’s some light philosophizin’ (“If better things come to those who wait/Then bitterness left for all too late”) and stock nostalgia (“It still looks the same/They remember my name, stepping in for a cupful/This big-city man, I used to rumble with him back in high school”). Maybe it’ll grow on me with time. Right now, my favorite lyrical moment comes on the second track, “How to Live”: “Guess what/I lost my job/It’s just my luck.” Simple as the blues and delivered with all the pathos Bridwell and the band can muster, it puts a little lump in my throat every time I listen.

Musically, there are some unexpected nods to ’70s soft rock on the album’s later songs. It turned me off at first, until I remembered that I actually like Cat Stevens (a.k.a. Yusuf Islam). Now, when the band isn’t churning out the fast songs, I hear much of what I like about Stevens’ songs — the sensitivity, the earnestness — without the parts that make me embarrassed to admit I listen to him — you know, the schmaltz.

Infinite Arms didn’t impress me at first, but in the two years and change since its release, it has wrapped its fuzzy arms around me. In the space of just a week, Mirage Rock has already come close to winning a convert. —Paul Bowers

Mirage Rock is car-commercial ready

Today’s rock world — where artists and bands have been scattered into genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres like buckshot fired from a 12-gauge shotgun — is one of diminished expectations. Ten years ago, an established act would have considered anything less than 3 million records a failure, while today’s artists are more than happy with a mere 500,000, or even — gasp — a paltry 100,000. And so, we no longer gauge an album’s success on record sales. There’s a new standard, a new definition of success.

If just one song from your album ends up in a car commercial, then you’ve done well, but not great. But if one song ends up in car commercial, another in an NBA promo, and another in a movie trailer, well, that’s just about as good as it gets. And if those are the standards, then Band of Horses have finally made it big. This is not a criticism. This is a fact.

The band’s latest, Mirage Rock, is packed with tunes that are ripe for the picking. Case in point: the lead0-off track, “Knock Knock.” It’s easily the peppiest song Ben Bridwell and company have ever recorded, combining the pop sensibilities of Top 40-friendly Kings of Leon and indie rockers Built to Spill. If this doesn’t wind up in the climatic scene of a rom-com in which the leading man chases after the leading lady for the big, sweeping finish in which he apologizes for being an idiot and lets his lady-love know that he loves her for being, you know, just the way she is. He could be Ashton Kutcher or Justin Timberlake or Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It doesn’t matter. This song will be in a movie, most likely from somebody in Judd Apatow’s gang. Which is cool. Apatow rocks. Seth Rogan rocks. Jonah Hill rocks. Jason Segel rocks. Paul Rudd rocks. Their careers have practically been building to this moment. As have Band of Horses’.

The fourth track, “A Little Biblical,” also has a future in Hollywood ahead of it, but it’ll be on the small screen, not the big one. Decidedly less rocking than “Knock Knock,” “A Little Biblical” is a crisp and clean little ditty, a genuine piece of ear candy if there ever was one. And some day in the not-too-distant future, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to be repurposed as the theme song for a Malcom in the Middle-esque sitcom.

Meanwhile, the low-key, sing-songy “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” is sure to wind up in one of those tech-gadget commercials, the ones that use old timey-sounding music to convey the message that the device in question is, one, easy to use, and, two, it’s a frikkin’ instant classic that’s right up their with the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad. (Unfortunately, it’s not at all like any of those things; it’s a cumbersome, counter-intuitive conundrum.)

Of course, none of this is meant to slag Mirage Rock. It’s the best disc Band of Horses have put out yet, and they rightfully deserve to be rewarded for it — with one car commercial after another. Ben, Creighton Barrett, and the rest — great job. Enjoy the dough. You’ve earned it. —Chris Haire

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