Review: Band of Horses "Infinite Arms" (plus tangents)

24 May

Here is one of my Music Enjoyment Rules (MER): hold no expectations. None. Don’t plan on any album being as good as the prior, don’t depend on anyone for constant brilliance, don’t write off any musician for prior offenses. Bands and artists lose the magic touch as quickly as they found it, and vice versa, and expecting any sustained greatness is a recipe for disappointment.

I call it the “Rule of Four Albums”: no band or artist is able to release more than four successive great albums in a row. (The Beatles may be the sole exception.) Blame it on creative limitations, fame, drugs, complacency, what have you. It’s a fact of life, and it’s a goddamn shame, but therein lies the key MER: hold no expectations.

Most of you know how much I loved Band of Horses’ 2007 album “Cease to Begin.” For years I essentially wore a sandwich board ‘round town publicizing my affection for the album, and many friends and associates confirmed the album’s excellence. Nearly universally loved, “Cease to Begin” was good old mid-tempo Americana rock ‘n’ roll, suited for pretty much every occasion.

Even with my aforementioned rule top of mind, I couldn’t help but be stoked about Band of Horses’ new album. Once in a great while, the heart wins a battle over the brain. So shameful.

On to the review. “Infinite Arms” is, in a word: lazy. I don’t mean lazy as in the guys walked into the studio, pressed record, banged on their instruments and mumbled into a mic for an hour or so and called it an album. Not bad lazy, but lazy as in a slower pace, quieter, chill, less building, less passion, less vocal intensity. Less everything. (Except twang. There is a bit more twang.) What “Infinite Arms” delivers is some pretty good music. Better than average. Worse than “Cease.”

According to my ears “Infinite Arms” is a perfectly enjoyable effort, with three great songs (“Factory,” “Dilly” and “Blue Beard”) and a bunch of inoffensive filler. A solid B-.

I’m disappointed, obviously, but that’s on me. Goddamn expectations screwed me yet again. Lesson learned. Probably.

Postscript tangent: Listening to “Factory” reminded of an old friend, Joel, one of the few people I’ve met who can match my grammar snob m.o. While discussing “Cease to Begin” a couple years back, Joel admitted he had a tough time listening to the first track “Is There a Ghost” because of the lyric “When I lived alone / Is there a ghost in my house?”

The inconsistent tenses totally ruined the song for him. (Make no mistake, friends: it’s hard out here for a snob. Ours is but a never-ending, tongue-biting struggle.)

The reason I’m reminded of this anecdote is the following lyric from “Factory”:

Now then later, I was thinking it over by the snack machine
I thought about you and a candy bar
The Now and Laters, now that I’ve got stuck between my teeth
I fell asleep to the greatest movie of the year

Oof. I’m hoping against hope this is a beautiful analogy that went over my head, because on the surface, that sounds like something I would have written in my journal in 4th grade and then immediately crumpled up and tossed in my basketball hoop garbage can (missing badly).

Here is my thought on lyrics (and MER #2): they aren’t necessary to enjoy a song. Most of my all-time favorite tracks, I have no idea what the song is actually about. I thought “Wish You Were Here” was about Vietnam until like three years ago. Is “Rebellion (Lies)” actually about rebelling, perhaps against conventional wisdom? Is “Can’t Hardly Wait” a hopeful tribute to life, or is it about suicide? No idea.

And that’s fine with me. A great lyric is icing on the cake, far as I’m concerned. All I ask is that the words don’t hamper my enjoyment of the tune. “I thought about you and a candy bar”? That silly nonsense was hella distracting, and as a result has lessened my enjoyment of an otherwise great song.

Old friend Joel: I feel your pain.

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3 Responses to “Review: Band of Horses "Infinite Arms" (plus tangents)”

  1. RandBall's Stu May 25, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    I liked it a touch more than you did (B+, if I had to assign a letter grade). Three favorites are “Dilly,” “Compliments” and “Laredo.” Agree on the pace.

  2. Gates May 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    I like your “Rule of Four albums.” Today, I feel like modern bands have a “Rule of Two Albums…”hopefully Arcade Fire breaks the string this summer.

  3. Dave MN May 27, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    I’m hoping that this year is Guster’s year for the fourth great album in a row. Their early stuff was good, but they didn’t have a great album until “Lost and Gone Forever”.

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