It was the sleeper hit of 2006. Everything All The Time was one of the most blogged about albums of that year, a good ole fashioned word-of-mouth success. Band Of Horses had managed to create the perfect blend of the reverb drenched vocals of My Morning Jacket, the mellow Americana of Wilco with the added twist of pure Springsteen Rock ‘n Roll. Horses main man Ben Bridwell found himself the toast of the indie fraternity. He’s also one of the nicest guys you could possibly hope to meet, his charm and charisma won over the entire crowd at ATP this year.
It was always going to be a thankless task to follow up such an assured debut. Losing one of his co-writers hasn’t exactly helped the sophomore slump, but what band haven’t had their problems (I’m looking at you Jeff Tweedy), it’s just that some of them have used it to their benefit. But Cease To Begin isn’t the slump that most people will have you believe. It’s tighter than it’s predessor. It’s a more joyful record as well. The darkness of songs like ”The Funeral” and “Monsters” have been replaced with swaggering, piano driven pieces like “The General Specific” and “Ode to LRC”.
The record bursts into life with the live favourite “Is There A Ghost”. The tinkling guitar a warm blanket for Bridwell’s reverb vocals to wrap themselves in, the drums beat into life as a crescendo of noise erupts. It’s an assured and confident start, a “Fuck you” to the doubters perhaps? It continues with the swaggering rock of “Ode To LRC”. The chiming guitars and jangling rhythms are carried by Bridwell’s vocals again, slowing down midway with a nice string section which seems to act as the perfect accompanyment to those high and reverbed vocals. And whilst this is a great track, if you listen carefully to the lyrics the first holes in the record become apparent. They’re repetitive, basic and sound like something from the back of a Sixth Form folder, the empty line ”The world is such a wonderful place” sluggish and uninsightful.
“No One’s Gonna Love You” though is one of the most touching love songs I’ve heard all year. It’s refrain of “No one’s gonna ever love you more than I do” sounds as if it’s straight from the heart, the delicate echoes of guitars and keyboards just perfectly compliment it. “Detlef Schrempf” continues this quiet passage. Another love song that finds Bridwell lamenting a lost love, or a mistake that’s cost him dear - ”Eyes can’t look at you any other way” - a touching and haunting line of open honesty. Things pick up momentum with “The General Specific”, a gospel tinged stomp with it’s bouncing rhythms and feel good factor. You can imagine the band clapping hands and playing guitars around a campfire, beers spilling everywhere whilst dancing to this. It’s a shame that the lyrics are throw away and unmemorable.
The instrumental interlude of “Lamb on the Lam (In The City)” seems pointless too. Fifty seconds of swirling and acoustic guitars that sound like they were recorded in a cave. At least we get the chiming guitars and marching beats of “Islands on the Coast” next. A real standout track, it’s one of the few tracks that echoes the feelings from Everything All The Time. Bridwell’s lyrics mirroring the music in such a way as to stimulate visions of coastlines around the world from a birds-eye view – images of a swirling and flowing landscape. Unfortunately the pedestrian “Marry Song” tries a bit too hard to pluck the heart-strings. It’s companion piece “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” a more aggressive counterpoint. Like a punch-up at a wedding, it’s out of place - its social commentary feels slighty forced and it’s repetitive chorus of “tra la la’s” and hollow guitars are boring. Unfortunately, the album closer “Window Blues” is a similar slice of forgettable pie. It’s opening gambit setting the tone: ”The shit is flying out of the window“, it feels like a let down. It’s slide guitar a meandering and unadventerous end to an album that started so well.
In the end, this album adds up to slightly less than the sum of it’s parts. There’s something missing from the mix. There’s not one song that hits the sheer hights of “The Funeral” or “The Great Salt Lake”. The loss of Matt Brooke seems to have been felt more in the lyrical department though. The age old tales of love, loss and occassional social commentary don’t really sit as comfortable as they might do. The opening half of the album promises so much, but the second half doesn’t quite live up to it. Not as classy as their debut then, but there’s still plenty of hope that Bridwell can live up to the expectation next time around. Let’s just hope Cease To Begin isn’t a hint of the future.