Well, it’s another Phil Ek record…and I’m not particularly Ek-static about it. Don’t get me wrong, Phil Ek has produced some of the Northwest’s best albums, beginning with one of my personal favorites, Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. But, and maybe it’s just me, does the world have room for another reedy-voiced, country-folk leaning indie pop band? I have been astounded so far to find so many glowing reviews for Band of Horses’ sophomore record, Cease to Begin. Critics are essentially saying it’s a departure from the whole Shins meets My Morning Jacket sound of Everything All the Time. I actually found the opposite to be true, that Cease to Begin is even more rooted in that sound that seems to be pervading the indie pop oeuvre for the past few years.
I really enjoyed Band of Horses’ first album. Songs like “The Funeral” will remain favorites of mine, but there’s an underwhelming sameness to the songs of Cease to Begin. As I stated earlier, it’s quite possible it’s just me. I just happen to need a little more in the music that I find great. I need the musical equivalent of a dramatic gesture, an emotionally resonant swell, a grab of the balls. This requirement can end up being a handicap (as I’m sure fans of this new record will no doubt let me know), but it pervades everyday life. Instead of telling a girl that I like her and letting that simple phrase marinate, I am compelled toward the overly romantic ‘all-in’ act, often chasing away my intended who ends up running for the hills. This is why I loved “The Funeral.” It’s a perfectly balanced song with overlapping guitar lines that do indeed grab the balls. One thing that the other critics and I agree upon is the fact that there is nothing like “The Funeral,” and I’ll add ‘nothing as closely dramatic or exciting’ on Cease to Begin.
I’ll admit that with repeated listens, Cease to Begin does get a little better. Opener and single “Is There a Ghost,” despite its baiting opening line, “I could sleep,” and its error of verb tense, is an entertaining song. However, with just three lines, the song’s repetitiveness wears on the listener. “Ode to LRC” is the closest thing to a My Morning Jacket song outside of MMJ, but why would we listen to an imitation when the original is still around? But the real ‘sameness’ of the album begins with “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Detlef Schrempf,” the latter oddly named after a German born / Northwestern bred NBA B-level star. “I could sleep,” indeed. I guess this is what the similarly-voiced James Mercer meant by ‘wincing the night away.’
I don’t mean to be so negative, but Cease to Begin just brought it out of me. Songs on this album, which I was looking forward to, by the way, were alternately cloying (“The General Specific”), imitative of the Shins (“Islands on the Coast”) or forgettable (pick one). I can almost guarantee that Cease to Begin is going to be one of those albums that people are Ek-cited about upon its initial release, but then completely forget about its existence over time. Alright, tell the truth, you bought Wincing the Night Away early this year and haven’t really listened to it a whole lot since. In fact, now, when you want to listen to the Shins, you pick up either Oh, Inverted World! or Chutes too Narrow instead, don’t you? I knew it.
I tried really hard to like this record, and in some spots I can hear some magic, but for the most part, I felt as if the title of this new Band of Horses record was spot on, it just ceased to begin. Maybe that’s what they were going for. Maybe that’s the sound of living in the rural South, just waiting and waiting for something to happen and nothing ever does. Then again, maybe it’s just a record that everyone wanted to like because “The Funeral” was so good, but they just got tired of it. This is definitely a case of a band having its own “Funeral” too soon. Or, maybe it’s just something that can’t be Ek-splained.
The Shins- Wincing the Night Away
My Morning Jacket- It Still Moves
Rogue Wave- Asleep at Heaven’s Gate