Band of Horses: Infinite Arms (Sony)

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Band of Horses: On My Way Back Home
Band of Horses: Infinite Arms (Sony)

Where the last and quite terrific Band of Horses album Cease to Begin opened with the strained alt.rock of Is There a Ghost, this new one -- again after some line-up changes around sole founder member Ben Bridwell -- stretches to life with a string-coloured melancholy alt.country ballad Factory.

It -- like Is There a Ghost -- is an immediate winner, but of a very different kind. And it hints that this is going to be something else again from a band which started life in indie.Seattle but has relocated to the Carolinas and is now on a major label for their third album.

With singer-songwriter Tyler Ramsey (whose solo album A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea of '08 was a delight) now a permanent member and the line-up seeming more stable, Band of Horses have grown, deepened and expanded their palette. They are also rather more beardy in the way of The Band -- and in places here that, and the more recent Black Crowes, is a reference point.

These songs are clearly modeled on more traditional structures (verse/chorus etc, big guitar backdrop, nice hooks) and if the edge of desperation of Ghost and the pop on Cease to Begin has all but disappeared, then this album seems much more coherent, consistent and immediatelky likable.

Material like the gritty, widescreen Laredo sound built for stadiums, but also acoustic sessions in clubs; the close-harmony pop-ballad Blue Beard  sounds like it has borrowed the best from MOR acts like Bread and America but with a darker twist; On My Way Back Home suggests an alt.country Beach Boys in its rolling and mature pop beneath Bridwell's lovely vocal; and there is a wide prairie of distance between the dreamy title track and the Replacements-like, soaring grunge-rock of NWApt (which could only come from the same band as on Is There is Ghost).

Infinite Arms sounds like Band of Horses' big leap into the centre of the frame and doubtless tours with Pearl Jam, and palling around Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young (both influences here) will take them to that bigger audience they deserve on the back of this more reflective album which keeps just enough of that indie spirit but now grounds it in a longer alt.country-rock tradition.  

There is an audio interview with Tyler Ramsey here.

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