After their first five albums, Band of Horses disappeared from the studio for a bit. The lineup changed, but the group continued touring, and of course, the pandemic hit, and the world slowed down. They’re back now with their first release since 2016, Things Are Great. Band of Horses continue to do their thing with warm indie-rock drawing from cosmic country sounds and reasonable use of reverb and echo. The time away from recording has refocused the group, with frontman Ben Bridwell keeping the new music focused on the quintessential elements of their sound. The album turns out to be typically likable, but with the risk-free approach, the group offer little new sonically even as Bridwell opens up in his lyrics.
Things Are Great opens by immediately betraying the irony of its title. “Small talk with a registered nurse / Not to cry in front of people at work / Well that’s hard, hard, hard, at times you know,” Bridwell sings on “Warning Signs”. He talks about how neither he nor those around him want any help, whether handouts, sympathy, or therapy. It’s a moving start to the album. Things really aren’t great right now. The band created most of these songs before the pandemic hit, but it’s always true that things are falling apart (the last few years being just a little extra). Bridwell expresses near-collapse through a mix of hints, denials, and clarity; this honest take gives the song resonance.
The rocking energy picks up on the following track, the single “Crutch”. It makes for a fun listen, but it doesn’t match the depth of its predecessor. Bridwell’s a little confused and complaining. This one should suit concertgoers just fine, but it never quite elevates. Much of the album, as good as it can be, struggles simply from not finding new space. Bridwell writes as well as he ever has here, but the songs stick to the Band of Horses formula, solid rock driving relatable struggles.
“In Need of Repair” has a pleasing melody and good use of dynamics, but it’s hard to get behind the chorus of “It’s not enough, it’s not enough / Every single day I hide from hurt” when the opening cut did that a similar better. The album’s comfortable enough that you can get lost in it, wrapped in good music while listening to a friend. But that’s also the album’s weakness.
It makes only marginal sense to criticize Band of Horses for doing what they do when they do it so well. Fans will likely be happy with Things Are Great, but they should be taking on (or offering) new musical challenges or exploration this far into their career. Bridwell has a very clear vision for his band and presents it well. His smart lyrics match his previous standards, and the group execute the album well, but it feels too much as if they’re standing in place. After six years, it might just be a matter of settling into a known spot, but Band of Horses could benefit from a compelling shake-up as they begin this phase of their career.