One could easily be forgiven for wondering whether the Horrors of Skying is indeed the same band that, just a little over four years ago, debuted with an album of ghoulish garage rock titled Strange House. If the respectability and developed songwriting of the band’s sophomore record Primary Colours came as a bit of a surprise, their third offering is downright shocking both in scope and sound. After working with Geoff Barrow of Portishead on Primary Colours, the band decided to build their own studio and record Skying on their own. Up until this point, everything the Horrors had touched has felt at least somewhat nocturnal. That can’t necessarily be said for much of Skying; quite the contrary, there are several songs that border on sunny. At the same time their sound has brightened, the band has also become considerably more ambitious.
With the cinematic sweep and hopeful tone “Changing the Rain,” the Horrors announce right upfront that they are working with a new template. This is a brighter, bigger budgeted band. “You Said” follows; layers of horns, tremolo affected guitars and organs are all piled on. And yet it works because the band is never so ostentatious that its aspirations become burdensome and the band’s massive sound is generally captivating. Even as the song retains many of the elements of shoegaze present on Primary Colours, there is a considerably lighter air about it. It’s commendable that the band’s ambitions have grown in proportion to their NME-sized hype, and one need only look to the album’s second half to get an image of those ambitions. Between the epic catharsis of the brilliant “Still Life” to the 8-minute opuses “Moving Further Away” and “Oceans Burning,” the Horrors are striving to make a grand statement here. “Oceans Burning” is a slow burning shoegazer hymn that transitions into a driving, echoing freak-out by the song’s end. You can feel the specter of Ride hanging over the song and on much of the record, the weight of their influences is pronounced, but the band’s delivery still resonates just the same.
The nocturnal atmosphere of Primary Colours brought The Horrors new levels of commercial and critical success, so it’s no surprise that the band doesn’t completely abandon them. There are moments peppered throughout Skying that bear an immediate resemblance to that record, even if those moments are blown up to be much larger and more accessible than anything the band has previously done. “I Can See Through You” closely resembles the post-punk of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes – touchstones frequented on Primary Colours – but it’s so much more infectious than what we’ve come to expect from them. The MBV guitar tones and ghostly atmosphere can’t muddy the propulsive beat and clever synth melodies. “Dive In” has a danceable baggy beat not too far off of the Stone Roses or Happy Mondays; it’s essentially shoegaze by way of Brit-Pop, and it works.
There are points on Skying when the band’s approach feels just a bit too considered. Perhaps it’s the freedom from feeling the inevitable pressure of paid studio time that has afforded The Horrors the opportunity to vex over the details, but they would do well to let their impulses take over more often. The album really succeeds when the band lets a little chaos in. “Monica Gems” taken on its own might ordinarily seem like a b-side, but among the more carefully considered tracks, its unruly tone feels like a breath of fresh air. That being said, this is their most accomplished record to date. The Horrors seem eager to prove they are worth putting on the cover of Mojo. Skying certainly makes a good case that they are living up to the hype.
Video: The Horrors – “Still Life”