Album: The Horrors, Skying (XL)
Friday 08 July 2011
The supposed charms of The Horror's previous two albums, Strange House and the Mercury-nominated Primary Colours, I freely admit, escaped me with a vengeance. They seemed to be far too eager to stare into the dark abyss of Gothick cliche, and found only Bauhaus staring back, the razor-sharp cheekbones of Peter Murphy's gaunt visage casting shadows over their entire aesthetic.
Then just a few months ago, Horrors singer Faris Badwan teamed up with Canadian multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira as Cat's Eyes, whose eponymous album offered an intriguing, updated take on the Spector/Wilson notion of teenage symphonies. It suggested a whole other side to Badwan, which is pleasingly extended into this third Horrors album, such a giant stride beyond their earlier efforts that it could be by a different band entirely. The change is crystallised on the opening "Changing the Rain", a sort of mellotron-drenched trip-hop groove, which swirls miasmically in typical Horrors style, but crucially this time rises towards the light, rather than plunging into the dark depths.
It's a significant shift in direction, which relies less on altering sound than changing the emotional vector of their music. Hence the bright, colourful sleeve, and the album title, which aptly conveys the lightness of spirit in tracks like the dreamy "Endless Blue" and "You Said", a gently juddering pop groove whose hook, with its blur of layered loops, recalls The Avalanches.
Significantly, the songs favour imagery of sky and sea, and replacing the claustrophobic, smothering mood of previous Horrors work is a new-found appreciation of space: "Everyone seems so far away," exults Badwan in "Endless Blue", while the eight-minute centrepiece "Moving Further Away" is built around a mantra chant of "Everybody moving further away". It's one of the most impressive tracks here, its phased shaker and synth riff developing a sturdy Krautrock momentum, which houses mangled guitar noise and minimalist synth repetitions in "Baba O'Riley" manner.
Elsewhere, with its stop/start guitar riff and psychedelic dub vortex, "Monica Gems" could be a character from Syd Barrett's troubled imagination, while "Dive In" runs vibrato guitar and Badwan's stern, echoing croon over an itchy rhythm groove reminiscent of something Mani and Reni might have cooked up for The Stone Roses.
They've not completely foresworn their glam and goth roots, as the organ-led putdown "I Can See Through You" confirms; but more intriguing is the direction they've routed those influences on the glam-synth stomp "Still Life", the album's first single. As it builds implacably over five minutes, the similarities to Simple Minds (in their Empires and Dance heyday) become too obvious to ignore: not just the assertively anthemic manner, but the actual melody itself, are infused with the same kind of vainglorious new-wave pomp that led ultimately to U2. Whether The Horrors will willingly pursue that same trajectory to its logical conclusion seems doubtful, but for now Skying finds them breaking free of old bindings, eyes set on the wild blue yonder.
DOWNLOAD THIS Changing the Rain; Moving Further Away; You Said; Endless Blue
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