Thursday, 28 July 2011

Review: The Horrors - Skying


The Horrors first burst onto the scene in the mid 2000's, but a lot of people dismissed them as a bunch of goths with a personality crisis who spent too much time listening to old garage rock bands, and the 60's infected debut album 'Strange House' divided music fans and critics. Their 2009 album 'Primary Colours' was their second album and changed a lot of people's opinions of the group, seeing their music evolve into a moody, Krautrock-inspired psychedelic Shoegaze sound. Now in 2011 they are back with their third effort 'Skying', for which the band built their own studio and decided to tackle the task of recording and producing the album themselves.


The result is a fine set of songs that grow with stature and impact with every listen. While you can spot little bits of the influences (Echo & The Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine, Kraftwerk, amongst many others) the band have managed to twist these inspirations into their own unique sound, and a sound that this group sound very comfortable with. The songs are strong and the album moves along with a truly inspired confidence, taking in big anthemic choruses, 80's synths, lots of phasers, droning guitars and songs that explore many different musical places while still managing to work as perfectly accessible pop numbers. 

The album opens with 'Changing The Rain' where some rather intense percussion threatens darkness and unease, but instead the song shuffles along with a mid-paced, rather orderly baggy vibe and a bright positivity, making you wonder exactly which directions this album is going to take. The answers begin to unravel in the second track 'You Said', where the mood is brought down and touched by resigned-sounding melancholy. The sad croon of the vocals, the mesmeric soundscape of electronic strings and the ghostly beauty of the synths add to the bleak prettiness of this wonderful moment, making it an undoubted album highlight. 'I Can See Through You' is altogether darker, with an unsetttling but catchy keyboard hook, an enjoyably pounding groove and plenty of shades of psychedelica, sounding almost like a fusion of Hawkwind and Berlin-era Bowie. 'Endless Blue' misleads with its blissfully chilled out swoon of an intro, carrying the listener into a most pleasant ambience. Then about a minute and a half in the track explodes into action with a fuzzy, repetitive new wave punk riff and a euphoric, hazy chorus.
 
'Dive In' is one of the most instant tracks on the record and wonderfully hypnotic. the fractured, dissolved guitars form an attractive musical pattern underneath the tidy, strident vocal melody before a huge, powerful chorus is unleashed. Such big melodies however are only a warm up for the following track, the magnificent 'Still Life'. This song could very well be my single of the year so far and gets better with every listen: a neat bassline, backwards guitar loops, a steady drum beat, some stunning analogue synth sounds and a massive chorus that recalls Simple Minds at their commercial peak.Triumphant brass enters towards the end and adds to the power and scale of this excellent moment. 

Such anthemics are toned down in favour of the mysterious haze of 'Wild Eyed', where haunting strings play against woozy horns towards the end, conjuring up an almost 'Screamadelica'-esque vibe. Perhaps the album's centrepiece, 'Moving Further Away' is a brilliant accomplishment and at over 8 minutes long proves itself to be quite an epic. Driven by dancefloor euphoria and decorated with thrilling Kraftwerk-esque synths, the title is repeated with maximum impact as the music fizzles with an ecstatic energy. Then towards the end we are treated to a fierce, angry barrage of guitars that almost recalls Mogwai's heavier moments. 

'Monica Gems' is an altogether different beast, powered by an almost Strokes-ish garage rock riff, but becomes a marriage of psychedelica and glam rock, the vocals smothered with trippy reverb and maximum use of phasers. At first the closing 'Oceans Burning' is the song that proves the most difficult to get into, but soon grows into a work of strange, unfriendly beauty, drifting along in a cold downbeat fashion with a sheet of guitars that sound like an icy wind. There's a little hint of Frankie's 'The Power Of Love' before the song breaks down into an array of weird and wonderful electronics then bursting back into life sounding darker, stronger and more menacing until the track ends rather abruptly.

'Skying' reshapes many musical ingredients into a strong, confident piece of work that shows a band hungry to progress with every record, exploring lots of diverse musical territories while still maintaining a firm grip on perfectly accessible pop melodies and memorable hooks. The grooves and sounds are all played incredibly tidily and in a most orderly fashion, yet the music is well and truly liberated, sounding wild and free. My only complaint is the sequencing of the album towards the end does leave the album feeling a little incomplete, like it needs to take one more journey and go out with a much bigger bang. Despite this The Horrors have produced an incredibly satisfying album that may take a few plays to really get into, but sounds awesome when the sounds and melodies capture your ears. This record should win The Horrors plenty of new fans and should be more than enough to keep their existing fanbase satisfied.

8.5/10

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