Band of Horses stole a lot of hearts in the early aughts. They wrote songs with big emotional peaks; dreamy falsettos and ethereal guitars eventually crashed by crunchy distortion. Following their first few records, the band veered further from their foggy coastal sound, and into a more country aesthetic, more than likely due to their move from Washington to South Carolina. As the years wore on, Band of Horses faded into the indie rock amalgam, releasing a couple of records that, although pretty good, felt like inconsequential afterthoughts of their first three records (two if you are one of the people who don't like their major label debut, Infinite Arms. Personally, I enjoy it). Perhaps the band leaned too sharply into commercial hooks under the pressure of major label provocation, losing some of the uniqueness that got them there in the first place.
Fortunately, Things Are Great is a very nice revisiting of the Band of Horses that made us fall in love with the cloudy poignancy of the Pacific Northwest indie rock world. Frontman Ben Bridwell's songwriting and uber-distinctive vocals continue to tickle that delightfully sensitive spot of the brain; that little area that makes you wistfully reflect on life. The album's first single, "Crutch," carries the well-worn melodies and bombastic guitar that made Band of Horses such a distinguishable band in their salad days. Sonically, Things are Great moves along leisurely and lushly, with enough atmospheric and crunchy guitars to satisfy that ever-ticklish brain-space.
The title is a bit tongue-in-cheek; there is a definite bit of lyrical darkness on Things Are Great, enhanced by some pretty overt lyrics. Bridwell waxes over anxieties, isolation, hard days and physical harm. Some pretty heavy stuff, indeed, however, Bridwell and his band do a textbook of adding just enough airiness to not be suffocated by its weight. Band of Horses' ragged glory creates an optimism that lurks just beyond the harshness.
One issue that may befall Things Are Great; a common pitfall of many bands, is that artist consistency can sometimes pave the way for listener ambivalence. The record is great, their best in years, but it still kind of sounds a lot like the other Band of Horses albums, and sometimes the record's high points might drown in the falsetto folk-rock ocean that is their catalog. This is all very forgivable with Band of Horses, though, who's patented sound is damn good; it would be criminal to inorganically change it. Perhaps it is better for us to take a comfort in the steadiness of the band, and look at Things Are Great as a wave crest in a sea of good song and sound.