It was incredibly easy to spot the Horrors at this year’s SXSW music conference. Amidst all of the t-shirted hipsters, these Southend, England boys stuck out like Edward Norton at a sickle cell anemia support group meeting. Electrified black hair and Addams Family wardrobes acted as an anti-camouflage, and if it was their point to be noticed, as I’m sure it was, they succeeded. My temptation was to follow them around for the day, to traverse the streets of Austin, Texas like Marlowe in a pontoon boat, maneuvering in and out of clubs like river ports, waiting for that illuminating moment in a dank and dark back room where an overweight and sweaty emcee would whisper a diatribe against the vileness of humanity before finally introducing the band to their audience by croaking, “…the Horrors…the Horrors!” Alas, this was not to be.
I previously reviewed the Horrors’ debut EP and attempted to distance myself from the UK generated hype that surrounded this group at every turn. Like any band with a gimmick, the Horrors had theirs’ exploited to the extreme, which, in turn, made the band seem somewhat engineered, cold and calculated. As is usually the case, skepticism was the natural byproduct. Reviews were dotted with `despites’ and `althoughs,’ acknowledging that the Horrors’ package as a whole might be hard to swallow. Hell, even the context of their press sheet seems to intimate that people might dislike them. But, of course, after all of the `despites’ and `althoughs,’ the reviews were generally good, even praising, and deservedly so.
EP introductions can go either way. For Bloc Party, the Mystery Jets and Voxtrot, whose forthcoming album is sure to please, the EP acted as a herald of great things to come. For others, such as Nine Black Alps, the resulting album release just didn’t hold up against the strength of the shorter introduction. So, what will it be for the Horrors? Most verdicts are coming in positive, and they’re absolutely right. Not only does the band continue to live up to the promise of the creepy organ-backed spookfest of the songs on their EP, they provide a variety of different sounds and styles on Strange House. Their cover of Screaming `Lord’ Sutch’s “Jack the Ripper,” their debut single “Sheena is a Parasite,” “Excellent Choice” (renamed “Horror’s Theme” for the US version) and, as a hidden track, the Munsters-like “Death at the Chapel” all survived the transition from half to full-length, representing the best songs from the EP.
For those who might have wondered how they could follow-up “Sheena,” there is their new single, “Count in Fives.” The 60’s garage-rock feel makes one think of the Sonics or ? and the Mysterians as piped through Alice Cooper’s stage set-up. “Draw Japan” is essentially an early B-52’s track minus the flamboyant irony, and stands out as one of the album’s highlights. “Excellent Choice” is a narrative story that ends up being a strange blend of “Parklife” and “Frankie Teardrop.” Cues from punk, garage and Britpop find their way throughout every nook and cranny of Strange House, but each track is given the Horrors’ Halloween-themed spooky touch. Songs like obvious standouts “She is the New Thing” and “Thunderclaps” combine menace with early pop punk with ease, making the album more than just the result of a `gimmick band.’
It’s hard to say whether the Edward Scissorhands meets Dawn of the Dead image construction is helping or hurting the Horrors. Sure, they get noticed, which is, I suppose, the first and most important step to being heard in the first place, but their cartoonish aspects lead to those infamous `despites’ and `althoughs’ I mentioned earlier. Luckily, because the music of the Horrors is so infectious, entertaining and sometimes even pleasantly menacing (as in closer “A Train Roars”), people use those words to denote their triumph. Strange House is a great record, and the Horrors deserve to be taken at more than just (really creepy) face value.
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