On paper Band of Horses seems like it would be a hideously boring mess: mid-tempo rock drenched in gratuitous reverb all with more than a hint of twang. But Ben Bridwell’s idiosyncratic execution of such a simple formula catapulted his band to the upper echelon of Sub Pop’s prestigious roster, alongside The Shins and mentors Iron & Wine with its unassuming debut, Everything All the Time. Bridwell and former bandmate Mat Brooke took an earnest approach to indie rock, relying on unpretentious themes, laid-back performance, and sincere lyrics. The results surpassed any and all expectations, as the band found itself in extremely high demand from frat boys to unapproachable elitists thanks to its defining anthemic single, “The Funeral.”
In a year when follow-up albums have underwhelmed and underperformed (Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Band of Horses has returned more focused than ever. The band’s en masse move cross country to South Carolina is barely audible, as Cease to Begin rarely strays far from its predecessor’s shimmering beauty. It certainly feels wiser and svelter, though. Bridwell not only knows how affecting the odd timbre of his voice can be, especially when he pushes the limits of his upper register, but he also knows how to manipulate a fairly simply constructed song to meet his desired intentions. His crystalline delivery and oddly syncopated phrasing emotes in a universally appealing way.
Bridwell’s songwriting is sharper and much more sophisticated here, though never showy or indulgent, and with the album clocking in at just under 35 minutes it never has a chance to be. “Is There A Ghost” kicks things off with a storming crescendo a la “The Funeral’s” grand strokes. It’s by far the most aggressive moment of the album, allowing the band to delve deeper into the more recessive aspects of its mercurial beauty. “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Detlef Schrempf” showcase Bridwell’s growing balladeering prowess masterfully. Despite occasional lyrics that would be hard to muster with a straight face, Bridwell sounds genuinely heartfelt and honest. And that clear, clean tenor is nearly impossible to second-guess.