When Band of Horses broke onto the alt scene, they had so much potential. The band’s debut was bright and warm, stocked with sing-alongs, successfully making an obviously old-school pitch feel brand new. Even with the glossier follow-up they had found a sound that brought a new interpretation to what alt-country could be, bringing it into the twenty-first century. Now on their third record, Infinite Arms sees the band parting ways from their home at Sub-Pop, but much like moving out of your parent’s place for the first time, there are some growing pains, and you’re reminded how young this band still is. That being said, with this album they’ve managed to hone themselves into an alt-country machine that’s hard not to love.
Infinite Arms surfaces in the same void between alt-country revival and mainstream crossover Band of Horses have been treading in since the beginning. Light, melodic, and loaded with fine tuned harmonies, there’s more twang and slides to string together key moments like “Older” and “On My Way Back Home”. The pace is set early and leads you to exactly what you would expect from the band.
The themes here are still the same, with songs that are abstractly personal, and romantically hopeful. Ben Bridwell’s voice makes anything he sings sound genuine, creating endearing moments that give the record life. For the pop song “Dilly”, they bring in the bar room keys, leading you from vocal hook to vocal hook. Bridwell flexes his folk muscle on “Evening Kitchen” sticking to a single guitar and simple harmonies that resonate. When together you get their classic country sound next to their pop-rock for a combination that creates a musical consistency you can lean on, but don’t expect too many surprises.
Now by themselves, they build on a formula that’s worked for them, which gives them a sense of stability. This leads them to continue to put out solid material that rewards them staying power. As the story goes, there’s again much to love, but they are not immune from moments of filler as on “For Annabelle”. Album opener “Factory” goes a little over the top with stringed sections as the centerpiece smothering the track. It’s an overly dramatic way to start the record, though it eases into itself by the end, turning down the strings and sticking to their guns.
It’s easy to see the direction they’re going for, but sometimes that sound can be too one-dimensional, and for better or worse, you know what you’re going to get on a Band of Horses record. This then begs the question, has the best of this band’s sound already peaked? It’s hard to tell when they throw out rock tracks like “NW Apt” and “Compliments” as a signs of progression, and not just rehashing old tunes into new ones as on “Laredo”. The former brings back the driving rock guitars of songs like “Wicked Gil”, this time with a ringing key accent to fire things up. In searching outside the country scope they avoid that proverbial peak and get outside their box for a bit of fun.
With this record they move closer to the Starbucks crowd, being good enough without taking too many risks. Much like their first record, Arms is not about the individual songs, but the collection as a whole. There are flaws, sure, but you’re not necessarily detracted from them. As a result, you’re left with a solid listen, but in a sea of solid listens these days, what does that really mean?