Formed in Seattle, based in South Carolina, and previously a partnership between vocalist/main man Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke, Band of Horses is now a quintet on its third album, with Bridwell and his plaintive, Neil Young-like vocals the only link to the group's earlier incarnation and albums number one and two. A similarly rootsy, folkie, alt-country/Americana/beard-rock palette prevails at the heart of things, but the biggest change this time around is a pristine studio precision, as might be expected with an album 16 months in the making, and a new emphasis on pop songcraft, heavy on the Brian Wilson/"Pet Sounds" references, with more fragile arrangements and vocal harmonies galore.
In the less inspired moments, the retooled Band of Horses can sound a bit like America, crossing that fabled desert on a horse with no name (and no, I don't consider that a good thing). But on that most Wilson-flavored highlight "Bluebeard," the lovely, lilting "Older," the lushly orchestrated opener "Factory," or the jaunty "Laredo," the results are as sweet and seductive as a bowl of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel syrup on a hot summer's night. Band of Horses hardly is reinventing the wheel. But it's hard to resist its take on it when things are spinning along in such a pleasant fashion.
More often than not, this column is devoted to lauding local Chicago rock clubs; indeed, during nearly two decades of covering this city's music scene, I've rarely had cause to raise a warning about any venue here. Until now.
Bands: Think twice before playing the Rockbox, or make sure in advance (before you do all the hard work of promoting a show) that your agreements are set in stone, and that the club lives up to them. And Rockbox: Get your act together, pronto, or be prepared to be confined to booking only the sorts of bands that are so clueless (and awful) that they can't get a gig anywhere else. That oughta do wonders for moving those frozen bananas, eh?