Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Album Review: The Horrors - Skying

We all love stories of bands who have made a change for the better; the type with enough awareness to condemn what they have been doing and take steps to correct their wrongs, and in the past few years there have been few greater tales than that of The Horrors. When they formed in 2005, the Southend quintet bore closer resemblance to The Adams Family than a serious band, with ridiculous haircuts, an obscure fashion sense and frankly juvenile stage names. Their music was hardly terrible, with their debut LP Strange House proving a mildly passable dose of arty garage-punk, but you always got the overwhelming sense that the bands themselves valued their somewhat comical image over the substance of their actual compositions. All of that changed, though, with 2009’s sophomore Primary Colours. Engaging in a total career U-turn, the band cast aside their gimmicky extras in favour of a more serious and altogether more rewarding shoegaze direction. It wasn’t quite as good as some would have you believe (the NME even went as far as to name it their album of the year), but it was nevertheless a key turning point, and forced the previously disapproving musical community to sit up and take them seriously.

Primary Colours was certainly a massive step forward, yet was still far from perfect, and hinted that they may well have further progression left in them. In that sense, Skying is the sound of the bands making strides to fulfill that spare potential, and in the process taking an even greater leap onwards. Unlike Primary Colours, they’ve elected to pursue gentle evolution as opposed to complete revolution, and so this record represents a cohesive new chapter with numerous similarities as well as differences. As with it’s successor, the key influence behind Skying is My Bloody Valentine, only this time they have stepped up their homage so much that it can sound like borderline Loveless worship. Indeed there are moments on this record where it seems that the band have taken a mushroom-fueled daytrip into the mind of Kevin Shields, and returned utterly devoted to emulating his grand vision of pink fuzzy musical ecstasy. In fairness to The Horrors, they were making heavy use of distortion pedals as far back as their earliest demos, but Shields’ influence on this record – and their entire career trajectory up until this point – is undeniable. That said, there are far worse templates a band could model itself on, and the fact that this record proves such an engrossing listen is as much testament to the band’s progress as it is to the genre’s endearing appeal.

Probably the key ingredient to any successful shoegaze venture is atmosphere, and it’s that which proves to be Skying’s greatest strength. It’s a record which is capable of whisking you off into its own little world, both as a whole and within individual tracks. It’s this rich, psychedelic backdrop which makes songs like "I Can See Through You" and "Still Life" fit in perfectly with the rest of the record, while proving just as effective as stand alone tracks. There’s also a lot more variety here than it may initially seem, and while this can lead to issues with the flow it also gives rise to the most ambitious – and best – cuts the band has ever put its name to. "Endless Blue," for instance, boasts savage riffs that any number of late eighties and early nineties legends would be proud of, yet still manages to convey the record's smooth and dreamy vibe as well as any other track at hand. The real gem in the pack, though, comes in the shape of "Moving Further Away," the epic late-album centerpiece which clocks in at the best part of nine minutes. Picking up where "Sea Within A Sea" left off, the entire song rides on a wave of galloping synth, yet never loses steam despite it’s lengthy duration. It’s utterly hypnotic, and while it may sound like hard work, it stands as the best evidence yet that The Horrors are, in fact, the real deal.

As well as these moments of brilliance, though, one of the most encouraging things here is that like its predecessor, this is an album which still leaves plenty of capacity for improvement. Sure, beating this will be a tall order, but they’ve already overcome significant hurdles in their relatively short time as a band, so there’s no reason why they can’t make further strides down the path they've carved for themselves with these past two releases. The fact that it’s imperfect should not, however detract from what a good record Skying is. As well as being The Horrors greatest achievement to date, it’s also an album which should win over any who still hold doubts over their longetivity, and could be the one which establishes them as one of the best bands that Britain has to offer. Yes it’s derivative, but in the past twenty years there have been few better homage's to Loveless, and until Shields finally emerges with that elusive follow-up this is probably as good as we can hope for.

Skying is released on July 11th in the UK and July 26th in the US. You can stream the record in it's entirity on the band's website.

Track Listing

1. Changing The Rain
2. You Said
3. I Can See Through You
4. Endless Blue
5. Dive In
6. Still Life
7. Wild Eyed
8. Moving Further Away
9. Monica Gems
10. Oceans Burning

No comments:

Post a Comment