Band of Horses throw fans a few curveballs while generally preserving their sound on their third album and major label debut, Infinite Arms. The vocals are less haunting, but the country rock leanings are turned up. Folks complained about Cease to Begin sounding too much like Everything All the Time, but they might be just as miffed that Infinite Arms doesn’t sound enough like the group’s thrilling debut. Frontman Ben Bridwell seems to have given up on trying to write another rocker like “Funeral,” opting to fill this new release with acoustic guitars, strings and occasionally other dudes on vox, resulting in something that’s a little less Sub Pop, a little more dad rock. It might take a few spins to take root, but it’s not exactly the most challenging album either. It’s good, not great, but since we’re talking about Band of Horses, that’s good enough.
“Factory” lets listeners know right away that the group is headed in a different direction with canned strings. It still sounds like BoH, just with cleaner production, but it’s a sufficient enough twist to redefine the group’s sound. “Compliments” is a safer bet, a My Morning Jacket-style rocker. It’s no “
But while fans might cope with the slight sonic shift in time, it’s going to be harder to get around the lyrics. Bridwell has always been a little hit-or-miss. “Is There a Ghost,” for example, is catchy, but does anyone really care what it’s about? Often, Bridwell’s delivery is what puts the songs over the top. It’s what makes “No One’s Gonna Love You” that much better, “Funeral” that much more powerful. Here, though, even Bridwell’s beautiful country twang is tested by clunkers like “I thought about you in a candy bar” and “Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names / We could live by our own laws in favor.” That’s what ultimately keeps the record from being a knockout. The songs generally sound good, but they don’t always hold up under closer examination.
Infinite Arms is disappointing after Band of Horses’ first two albums, but it’s also a solid collection of songs on its own merits. It’s an easy listen, an enticing country/folk record, a nice comedown. And it comes with those neat-o photos that the band included in their other albums. I love those.