‘EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME’, ALL THE TIME: BAND OF HORSES TURNS TEN
The initial – albeit extremely short-lived – official lineup of the Pacific Northwest-born Band of Horses, will be seeing its 10th anniversary this weekend. I would argue that this original formation of the band was easily the most significant and powerful, and I’d like to assume that I’m among a large community who shares that opinion. Is this because I was a 22 year-old confused wanderer of the world when I first heard Everything All The Time and instantly named it one of the essential albums of that era of my life? Did I create such a strong bias toward their gigantic debut record that I simply wasn’t willing to give subsequent releases a fair shake? It is true that I lost considerable interest in the band shortly after the release of their sophomore record, Cease To Begin? Did this have more to do with my overall taste charting a different course, or was the band in fact no longer finding that beautiful spark that they instantly started with? Listening over their complete discography to this point, it’s apparent to me that they are now an entirely different outfit than when they came into existence a decade ago.
Its been an unfortunate downward trajectory for frontman Ben Bridwell and Co. since parting ways with one of the original key members, Mat Brooke, mere months after the release of Everything All The Time. The stories tell that Band of Horses came into the world quite quickly, almost immediately after Bridwell and Brooke’s earlier group, Carissa’s Wierd, ended things. They had already developed some admiration and a name for themselves in that band, and Band of Horses were opening for acts like Iron & Wine before ever having an official release on their hands. This drew attention from Sub Pop Records almost instantly, and before Brooke could even make a decision that he was fully committed to making this his main project, they were signed and receiving wide attention. All of a sudden folk-art hipsters across the country were harmonizing “At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral”. Rave reviews for Everything catapulted the band on long tours immediately following the release, but Brooke cut himself off from the group right in the thick of it all. As he went to focus on a project titled Grand Archives, the rest of the Band of Horses would spend the rest of 2006 completing a hugely successful run in support of one of the most notable debut records of that time frame, and Cease To Begin would follow just a year later.
I wasn’t paying close enough attention at the time to the formation changes the band was going through. I was too fascinated by the record as a whole, with singles like “The Great Salt Lake” and “I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” becoming mainstays on pretty much every CD compilation I made in the summer of 2006, as well as Cease tracks like “Detlef Schrempf” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” throughout the following year. It wasn’t until years later that I realized there was a sizable shift going on in the band’s sound, and to the point where Bridwell actually went on record before the release of 2010’s Infinite Arms, saying that it felt like a proper debut. It was, in fact, almost an entirely different band by the time that third record was released, with Bridwell the only remaining member from the original outfit. There are clearly two different Band of Horses, and although they have seen a steady rise in commercial success in the year since Infinite Arms and its signaled reincarnation, there’s been a complete absence of the vitality that once seeped throughout every strum and harmony in the beginning. Was Mat Brooke more of an essential cog in the overall sound that was once so endearing and affectionate? Is he essentially the Matt Sharp to Bridwell’s Rivers Cuomo? Maybe it’s not quite to the level of comparison that we could get to with a band’s demise like that of Weezer, but there are times when I feel like going to those lengths, and that is a testament to the utter power of Everything All The Time. There’s a reason that “The Funeral” is still heavily regarded as their defining moment.
As it stands now, the band has released four full-lengths and an acoustic live record, all at different levels of good to flat-out bad, and the trend has went nowhere but down since the beginning. 2012’s Mirage Rock was a radio-friendly, bonfire-ready, Mumford & Sons-piggybacker that made Infinite Arms look like a work of art. The following year saw an embarrassing setlist of stripped-down renditions from across their catalog, Acoustic At The Ryman. The selections were uninspired and the presentation of the songs rather lazy, and the absence of most of the Everything and Cease era tracks only magnified the current problems with the band. Its been four years since a proper LP from the guys, and giving a full look at the last decade, it’s certainly hard to have faith in what’s to come. However, I’m willing to hold out a small sliver of hope for album #5, because Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle has taken production duties under his belt, and it seems like they are really spending some time to (hopefully) channel that old spark. The closing track of Everything features Bridwell crooning words like “At the end of the night…we’d all seen better days”. These sort of exclamations directly relate to the artistic moment of the band in the present, but there’s always time.
Sometimes less is more, and maybe Mr. Lytle will be the light. Whatever happens, we’ll always have that gorgeous landscape snapshot of Everything All The Time, anytime.