Five albums in a decade is a pretty good batting average, but I'm always a little cautious when an album is described as a "return to form". It's with that attitude that I approached Band Of Horses' new record Why Are You Ok. I've rarely been disappointed with the output of Ben Bridwell's band, which has continually produced thought-provoking, occasionally explosive moments of aural bliss. If revisiting the predominantly quiet grandeur of 2010's Infinite Arms is considered the best that Band of Horses can offer, then perhaps Why Are You Ok is a triumph of sorts. Personally though, I found it a very difficult album to love.
As a record Why Are You Ok is perfectly inoffensive, but perhaps that's part of my problem, there are far too few moments where the band actually feels energised. Many of these songs feel lethargic and caught in a suburban slumber. It's also rare that an album clocking in at just shy of fifty minutes feels like it got lost somewhere in its own plodding and meandering songs. That's certainly the case here, and when one of the high points is called 'In A Drawer', you realise quite quickly that these songs are focusing on the minutia of a pretty contented life, rather than a grander theme. It's an album that could probably lose ten minutes along the way and it would greatly benefit: not in culling the number of songs, rather pulling into focus some of the dreamy moments where brevity would be a blessing.
That's also the frustrating thing, there is a genuinely good album hiding in here somewhere. On the opening cut which spans seven minutes and effectively stitches two disparate songs together ('Dull Times/The Moon') Bridwell reminds the listener that "home is where the heart is". If that's the case, then why do so many of these songs sound devoid of warmth and homeliness? It may sound lazy, but I just found that the opening song title said it all really, dull.
There are moments where you are reminded of the joy of previous albums though. 'Solemn Oath' has happiness oozing out of every pore and is a classic slice of Indie-Pop, lead single 'Casual Party' barrels along at a decent pace with memorable guitar flourishes, and the aforementioned 'In A Drawer' features a surprise appearance from Dinosaur Junior's J.Mascis who duets during the chorus. It's also clear that Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, who is on production duty throughout, has had an influence. The vocal effect that opens 'Lying Under Oak' over some electronically subdued guitars is reminiscent of his best-known work. It's clear then that Why Are You Ok has rewarding moments if you're willing to look for them. Overall though, it feels like an album that would have benefited from a dash more spontaneity.
You'll also notice the lack of punctuation in the album title itself. I think that's primarily because there's not really any questions here, these songs are a definitive statement as to why Bridwell's life is ok. That's not a bad thing of course, but I'd have preferred perhaps a little more drama to keep my attention from drifting away towards Band of Horses' past glories. Why Are You Ok certainly isn't essential, nor is it in my opinion a "return to form", but there are a handful of songs worth your time despite the overall experience.
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