Band of Horses

Cease to Begin

(Sub Pop; 2007)

By Peter Hepburn | 22 October 2007

In his very positive review of Band of Horses' debut, Everything all the Time (2006), Toph Alexander conceded that no wheels were reinvented in the making of the album. He was right, just like he was right about the album as a whole. It was a pretty, well-produced, inoffensive record that could really tug a heartstring. That's harder than it may sound, and kudos were in order for composer Ben Bridwell and his band.

That also probably sounds a lot like faint praise. I don't necessarily mean it to, but then again it's glaringly obvious Cease to Begin doesn't exactly offer those who felt the band's debut was pleasant-but-not-much-else any reason to reconsider their position. In fact, Cease to Begin might even force those who praised Everything all the Time to give ground: try as I might to take a new angle on it, all I can really say is that pretty much everything that went for Everything all the Time is true of Cease to Begin as well: the vocals are still drenched in reverb; the writing is still sorta hokey; the melodies are pretty; the guitars sound, well, shimmery; and the end result is warm and comforting. So everything is the same except one thing: the heartstring-pulling bit.

That this album isn't moving in any meaningful sense could be for any number of reasons: the sameness of the whole affair; the fact that Bridwell is, on the back of his success, simply not in a position to be moving; that Everything all the Time has already nullified the pleasure zones the band aims to connect with. I don't know, but I just don't feel this. And that's even more frustration, since, if the detractors are right, "feeling it" was really the only attractive feature of Band of Horses in the first place. Well, that and the fact that My Morning Jacket haven't released a new album in a while, so we needed something to fill that space.

Cease to Begin puts me in a precarious position: while it's very good at what the Band of Horses does best -- providing a soundtrack to whistful moments or memories--unlike Everything all the Time there's nothing here to grab onto, its songs merge together, and it's so innocuous in the band's trademark comfort that it can pass almost undetected. There's nothing song wise to even bother discussing, really, since every song is exactly what you expect without the charisma and emotion that seemed, at least to some of us, to permeate the debut. When the only clear exception to this pervasive blandness is the opening track, the driving "Is There a Ghost," I have to wonder: did the band push themselves to release an album too quickly? Is this just the sophomore slump? Like, literally slumped, since everything here just sounds so resigned?

This frustration may be compounded by the current debate going on about whether the band has sold out or not. I honestly hope Bridwell can license every single song on this album. There's no way he can be making a living from record sales alone, and I figure if I'm willing to illegally download his music he should be able sell it to Walgreens. Especially since, as much as hate to say it, that's the environment this music was custom made to soundtrack.