The Horrors: Luminous

As close as Luminous comes to being an excellent release, there remains something about it that is unembraceable.

The Horrors


Label: XL Recordings
US Release Date: 2014-05-06
UK Release Date: 2014-05-05

The Horrors’ transformation from a tangle of hair and legs playing goth-garage shouters into a nuanced, Mercury Prize-nominated musical force is one of the more interesting success stories to come out of England’s current rock landscape. The quintet’s standing as one of the most respected young bands in the UK is arguably warranted, with the transitional Primary Colours and the elegantly trippy Skying showing both the band’s musical skill and fondness for sounds new and vintage. Luminous, the Horrors’ fourth and latest release, presents itself as something like the synth-inclined group’s version of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz!. As such transitions often do, Luminous brings the Horrors’ growing accessibility into question, and listeners may find themselves either wanting to herald it as a thinking person’s pop record, or criticize the Horrors for wasting their time and talents on a trend that’s growing tired.

All of the Horrors releases have been loving and dexterous recreations of their favorite styles of music. So far, they have shown a fondness for the tongue in cheek (2007’s Strange House), the dark and the krautish (2009’s Primary Colours), and shoegaze at its haziest (2011’s Skying). Now, Faris Badwan, Tom Furse, Joshua Hayward, Joe Spurgeon, and Rhys Webb are ready to celebrate the natural high that comes from losing yourself in tones and grooves, with Luminous owing a little bit to dub, a little to disco, and a lot to mid to late ‘80s / early ‘90s buzz words like “baggy” and “Hacienda”.

For a band that started out looking like Victorian hearse drivers, the Horrors’ attempts at musical brightness are mesmerizing. The lushness was already heavily apparent in first single, “I See You”, which the band debuted in February. With a few synth tinkles that drive perilously close to Thomas Dolby / Simple Minds territory and Badwan’s warmest delivery to date, “I See You” seems undeniably single-worthy until you note its seven-and-a-half minute run time, three minutes of which are a propulsive, instrumental outro. That the Horrors’ are still so willing to promote their experimentation, one would hope that follow-up single “So Now You Know” was a concession for the band, especially considering its placement on Luminous means its swiftly knocked out of the park by the far superior “In and Out of Sight”.

Badwan’s decision to switch vocal styles, from an impersonation of the Chameleons’ Mark Burgess to something more uniquely his, is refreshing, although Badwan’s delivery and lyrics are still two Horrors elements that could use some strengthening. His move to find his voice has led the Horrors to edge even closer to finding a sound of their own. The middle of Luminous finds all members at their most successful, with “Jealous Sun” and “Falling Star” showing how effortlessly the band can switch from dark to light tones. It’s hard to choose what is more irresistible, Hayward’s guitar effects on the former or Furse’s synth lines on the latter. When “I See You” makes its entrance and that extended outro kicks in, you realize The Horrors are just as capable at maintaining a balance.

But then the stunning closer “Sleepwalk” takes the album back to the dark side, and you realize how little of an edge was present on nearly all the preceding tracks. For as good as Luminous is, there’s something undeniably trendy about it. Unsurprisingly, its least trendy moments are its most successful. As close as Luminous comes to being an excellent release, there remains something about it that is unembraceable. As ridiculous as the Strange House era was aesthetically, the Horrors’ initial look and sound at least set them apart. If the Horrors can retain their credibility while bringing back some of the cartoonishness of the past, then that would be a more praiseful balancing act than even the one Luminous displays.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.