Music

Band of Horses: Cease to Begin

More confident than its predecessor, Everything All the Time, Cease to Begin is an improvement in every way, and one of the best rock records of the year.


Band of Horses

Cease to Begin

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

When Cease to Begin starts, and you hear the opening notes to "Is There a Ghost" -- all soft-picked, reverb-soaked guitar -- things appear to be pretty much the same with Band of Horses. It sounds like a direct carry-over from Everything All the Time, a slight permutation of the main riff from "The Funeral". They are treading old ground with their new album, or so it seems in the opening seconds.

Then Ben Bridwell's vocals come in and any thought of looking back to their first record goes out the window. "I could sleep... when I lived alone / Is there a ghost in my house?" he sings to open the record, and his echoing voice is a sound far more powerful than he was capable of before. As good as it was, Everything All the Time also sounded hesitant in a lot of spots, the sound of a band feeling out its sound. The production was solid but underwhelming, taking some muscle from the guitars, rendering Bridwell's vocals airy and fading.

But these are all problems of the past, apparently. Cease to Begin is an improvement in every way. Everything just sounds bigger. The guitars, the drums, the vocals... all come with a noise that shows the band's confidence. It's only a moment after Bridwell starts singing on "Is There a Ghost" that the rest of the band joins them, and they go for the rafters in the back of the stadium right off the bat. The guitars are all hard-strummed distortion, the drums quick and train-steady. The song takes some of the more anthemic moments from the first record and speeds them up, turns up the guitars to give it some teeth, and the results are really stunning.

Second track "Ode to LRC" shows off the same energy, the band going full-tilt for half of it, until they drop it down and go quiet for the first time on the record, revealing Cease to Begin's second surprise. When these guys aren't busting their amps on this record, they are being downright soulful. "In a town so small," Bridwell sings when "LRC" turns on the blue lights, "how could anybody not, wave as you drive by..." It's a particularly revealing moment where we get a whole lot about this album in just a few seconds of a song. One, we see that Bridwell has figured his voice out. It's much fuller here, with enough bass in it to keep his high-register tethered to the track, where as on the first record his vocals often sounded disconnected from the instrumentation. He's also drawing out the words as he sings here, getting the feel of them more than before when he often sang in stilted bleats that were effective, in their way, but pale in comparison to his newfound pipes.

"LRC" also reveals a melancholy loneliness that pervades much of the record. Where "Ghost" has him wishing to be alone, free of the memory of someone he's lost, "LRC" finds him wishing anyone in town would greet him, just to feel plugged into the grid, if for a moment. But, for all its sadness, and the loss you can feel floating around all of these songs, it is also an often unabashedly hopeful record. Cease to Begin is a far cry from Bridwell's old band Carissa's Weird. Here, they don't shy away from sadness at all, but rather than wallow in it, Band of Horses spend the record looking for tiny glints of light in the darkness. "The world is such a wonderful place," Bridwell, totally free of irony, sings to close "LRC", and he sounds totally convinced of that fact as the band comes in, larger than life, to back him up.

And, just as Cease to Begin is bigger than its predecessor, it can also be gentler and more textured. The beautiful, though strangely-titled "Detlef Schrempf" rests on threadbare guitar and faint drums as Bridwell sings "Eyes can't look at you any other way" with a quiet voice dripping with subtle emotion. "Marry Song" channels the Band as the Horses show off their best vocal harmonies over gut-deep organ and drums. "Window Blues" is the best damn last call country song you'll hear all year, and a perfect way to close a record.

And all those quiet moments are bolstered by the rockers around them. "Islands on the Coast" boasts the biggest riffs-per-minute ratio in the Band of Horses catalog, and the multi-guitar attack ups the ante on the second half of the record. "The General Specific" is a quick, jangle-pop punch and displays Bridwell at his most energetic as he wails "I'm gonna wash my bones in the Atlantic shore." Perhaps the best two songs here -- "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Cigarettes, Wedding Blues" -- split the difference between the soulful ballads and the guitar anthems. The former could be counted in the ballad corner if not for the echoed-out, Marr-inflected guitar that is as big as the speed riff from "Islands", while the latter takes all the noise of "Is There a Ghost" and drags it through the mud, making it the murkiest, and perhaps finest, moment on the record.

In under 35 minutes, Band of Horses gives the listener anything they could ask from a rock record. They deliver the big riffs, the beautiful moments, solid lyrics, and the strong vocals to deliver them. It seems impossible that, in a time where bands tend towards overstuffed records when they want to change their sound, it is no small feat that Band of Horses could improve on their already impressive chops and cover so much ground in so little time. But that is exactly what they do with Cease to Begin, an album that is deceptively risky in its textured composition and laid-bare emotions. And those subtle risks payoff in a big way, making for one of the great rock records of 2007.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.