Band of Horses
Song of the South
Although the term “Southern rock” has traditionally evoked muttonchop sideburns and the devil going down to Georgia, the genre's tapestry also includes the kaleidoscopic psychedelia of early R.E.M. and the reverb-limned keening of My Morning Jacket.
Perhaps it's time to add Band of Horses to this list. The rootsy sextet-firmly aligned with the latter camp, but born of Seattle's omnipresent rainstorms and attendant coffeehouse culture-is led by singer/guitarist Ben Bridwell, a born Southerner who recently convinced his bandmates to return to his native South Carolina, a place he fled several years ago after finding himself in a “whole bunch of trouble.” He admits that the group's recent expansion to a three-guitar “Skynyrd Formation” marks them as part of a long musical lineage. “Sometimes I’ll pick up a banjo or slide guitar, but for the most part, it’s a little more rockin’ now,” Bridwell laughs, his vowels softly curling like a Gulf breeze. “We don’t really have our own Steve Gaines, though."
Band of Horses' sophomore release, the Churchillian-titled Cease to Begin (Sub Pop), marks a new chapter in the group’s development—an end of the beginning—as well as a shift in Bridwell’s writing. After parting ways last year with co-founder Mat Brooke (who went on to form fellow Sub Pop band Grand Archives), Bridwell’s compositions have veered from the soft-focus impressionism of 2006 debut Everything All the Time and toward a more narrative-driven style.
“That’s what the addition of a great piano player and livin’ in the South again will do,” Bridwell explains. “This album is about celebrating the homecoming. I wrote ‘The General Specific’ [one of the new album’s most affecting tracks, a lo-ﬁ, high-energy jig that wouldn’t feel out of place on The Band’s Music From Big Pink] as a straightforward pop song, but thought it sounded a whole lot cooler as a honky-tonk stomper."
More than anything, Cease to Begin represents the sound of a talented writer growing more comfortable in his skin, unafraid to name a new song after ex-Seattle Supersonic Detlef Schrempf despite its elegiac, unrelated subject matter. “Before, I purposely masked my lyrics—you couldn’t tell exactly where I was coming from. This time, I realized that if a song is trying to be written, don’t shy away from it. Don’t be a pussy—just write the goddamned song.”