Horrors – Luminous (XL Recordings, 05/02/2014)
The Horrors’ radical musical evolution is as interesting as it is distracting. True, the left turn away from from the garage-punk of the band’s eponymous EP and subsequent debut, Strange House, to the lush, navel gazing kraut rock psychedelia of excellent follow-up, Primary Colours, was a radical one. What’s been lost, however, in the (over)attention to – initially – their look (‘dangerous outsider punks, or NME-conceived art school wannabes?’) and next, the transformation of their sound (‘what will they do next?’), is the fact that the band has been consistently both interesting and challenging. [Disclaimer – I quite liked both the initial EP and the (now) much maligned Strange House. Sue me.]
Similarly, The Horrors’ new album – the aptly titled Luminous – seems to be discussed more for what it isn’t (i.e., another radical reinvention of the band’s sound) than what it is: a very confident and assured album. While the arrangements and overall composition more reshape than remake those on last offering, Skying, this is a well-oiled machine of a band that knows what it wants to sound like. In particular, the guitar work of Joshua Hayward throughout is fantastic, from Will Sergeant-style arabesque stabs, to wall of effect pedals, it serves as both a compliment and a counterpoint to the rapture.
If Skying nudged aside the curtains to let a bit of the outside in, then Luminous throws open all of windows, unlocks the door, and leaves the band squinting in the morning sun. The sound here is bigger, and the band’s ability to conjure a melody has never been stronger. Of course musically, at least (cough), bigger does not always equal better, and I was initially fearful at hearing lead teaser track “I See You”, which further expands upon the stadium-sized New Wave elements of Skying (think Simple Minds), with a fair amount of bloat resulting. Thankfully, the next track teased – the excellent “So Now You Know” – retains the playfulness and quirky bits that make much of this band’s work interesting. While certainly still “big” (and you can still hear some Simple Minds in there…alas) the sky scraping melody is surrounded by a sold foundation and sonic experimentation, and the balance of the album is in this latter vein.
But, is anything new, you ask? Ok, fine: two things register as new takes on the theme. The first, and most obvious, is a focus on groove. Gone, for the most part, are the straight motorik beats that marked large portions of both Primary Colours and Skying. In their place are are more sprightly, polyrhythmic drum and bass patterns, some bordering on baggy grooves. Luminous feels, at it’s heart, like a kind of dance record – one that might not make you twerk, but will very likely at least make you sway vigorously. For proof, look no further than standout track “In and Out of Sight” – gorgeous, and begging to be listened to cocooned in a buzzing, strobe lit glow.
The second is Faris Badwan’s voice. While always distinctive, his off-kilter croon has largely been pushed to the middle of the mix. Here, though, his voice glides atop of the kaleidoscopic swirl. His vocal range has also expanded into a higher register and seems more powerful than on past efforts. There’s even a ballad here – ! – pulled off quite well (“Change Your Mind”), which should soundtrack cool kid “anti-prom” parties for years to come.
So, no radical reinvention then, just a really good album that deserves to be heard.
Highlights include: “In and Out of Sight”, “So Now You Know”, “First Day of Spring”, “Change Your Mind”.