Album Review: Band of Horses ‘Why Are You OK’
It’s now been 12 years since the formation of indie dalrings Band of Horses (feel old yet?), and they’ve returned with their latest album ‘Why Are You OK’. The album is a combination of everything the Seattle 5-piece have explored in their musical careers, and for the most part it works!
The album is like if Weezer and My Morning Jacket had a musical lovechild with a Valium addiction. Frontman Ben Bridwell’s writing style is stamped firmly on each song, and it stays versatile with a mix of southern indie, psychedelic, and soft grunge influences. We’re thinking this homely album may become your next answer to a chilled out weekend.
Opening track Dull Times/The Moon sets the album off to a gentle start. Muted guitar tones give the perfect background noise, and a slow and simple drum beat accompanies echoed vocals. A grungy guitar intermission eventually brings the song out of its sleep and into a toe-tapping climax with falsetto vocals and loud drumming. At seven minutes the track is a long opener, and is a real attempt to set the scene for the rest of the album.
Solemn Oath follows with a soft constant beat making way for Bridwell’s voice to once again take centre stage. Muddled drums in the chorus give this piece a feeling of haziness and the upbeat chord progression keeps the song feeling deliciously indie.
“Layered vocals, steely guitars and major chord vocal harmonies give us visions of the band playing on a bale of hay wearing fedoras.”
Hag is a little more melancholy than its predecessor and slows the record down a little. Another piece full of echoey effects and ambient background instruments, the layers of this song sound like they’ve been put in a mixing bowl and whisked together. The guitar motif reminds us of a music box, and Bridwell’s voice stays emotional as always.
Casual Party takes on a slightly different tone to the rest of the album. A faster beat and rockier instrumentation breathes life into the song, and lyrics like “Awful conversation at the casual party / The job, the babble on, the recreational hobbies” give a hilarious irony to the joyful music.
In A Drawer is another track that gives us what we’ve come to expect at this point- a psychedelic inspired, flowy indie number. The different sounding sections help to break the song up and keep it interesting with a mixture between soft lullaby-style parts, to loud, almost uncomfortable releases of emotion.
Hold On Gimme A Sec presents itself as the clear intermission of the album. It starts with an interesting note progression- scaling up from a base note, starting again at the bottom and scaling up again. The background of this motif is what you’re expecting to hear- a scrambled medley of echoey effects. This instrumental goes for just over a minute, and it’s at this point where the album gets less grungy and more folky.
‘Why Are You OK’ sounds like a breeze has whooshed through the album and swirled everything together. You either love the consistency, or you don’t.
Lying Under Oak kicks off the second half of the album with a sleepy acoustic vibe. Ambient instrumental landscapes keep the track similar to previous tracks. Lyrics “Head to the roads and the stars in the sky/ Lean under oaks when your legs are tired” make this song the soundtrack to a lazy adventure. A track to add to your road trip playlist, maybe?
Next, Throw My Mess makes itself distinguishable from the rest of the album with a southern folk vibe that almost turns country. Layered vocals, steely guitars and major chord vocal harmonies give us visions of the band playing on a bale of hay wearing fedoras. It never gets too intense though, staying constantly calm in true Band of Horses fashion. Yee haw!
Whatever, Wherever keeps elements of that southern folk sound with its dry acoustics, and gives us more hazy echoes from the instruments, linking in with the rest of the album. This song might be repetitive to some but it’s not one to concentrate too hard on, just let yourself get lost in the angelic vocals.
Country Teen is another soft track that almost blends with the songs on either side of it. No layers in this track dominate the others, it’s all mixed together with a demeanour of mellow notes and super chilled attitude. For Barrel House, Bridwell channels early Neil Young with soft southern vocals. Gloomy, slow instrumentation backs the vocals perfectly and lets them shine. Again the sections blend together, never getting too intense or loud. The soft fade out at the end brings the song full circle in just the way you would expect it to.
The album wraps up with Even Still, an ambient soft piece with piano themes that particularly stand out. Slow and sleepy, it’s easy to see why Band of Horses decided to put this song at the end of the album. It’s melancholy, but in a really comforting way.
‘Why Are You OK’ sounds like a breeze has whooshed through the album and swirled everything together. You either love the consistency, or you don’t. For some fans it might be an inspiring musical journey, for others it might sound flat and overdone. It can sometimes feel like a 45 minute mashup of their previous work, so don’t expect any musical revelations. However, it’s a solid album which does deserve your curiosity!
Read our interview with Band of Horse’s frontman Ben Bridwell HERE