Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Horrors — Skying

I'm probably too old to be getting as much enjoyment out of this album as I am. But I've always said in the past that it's not an issue of how much you wear your influences on your sleeve — it's how you use those influences as a jumping off point that matters.

I know very little about where the Horrors came from. I mean, the basics are there: London band, started noisy. From what I'm to understand, every one of their so far three albums has been quite different from the last. But if Skying has anything to say about it, the band will be looked back upon as one of the most faithful —and simultaneously, one of the most creative— bands of the new millennium post-punk revival.

Sure, there's shades of all the greats here: Cure, Joy Division, et cetera, et cetera. But what really sets this album —and the Horrors in general— apart from their deplorably derivative and obnoxiously pretentious immediate predecessors is genuine interest and love of the music they are playing. Indeed, on Skying, it feels like honest restoration and not just a halfhearted attempt at recreating something.

Take an earnest approach to the usual 80's new wave influences and throw in a completely unforeseen shoegaze —indeed, a nearly psychedelic— element and you get a formula for something that would've been unique in 1991 — not to mention twenty years later. Indeed, when the small keyboard symphony of opener 'Changing the Rain' hits its chorus, it's clear that this band sticks out in 2011 — but not because they sound like they came from this generation.

For most of the album's fifty or so minutes, it settles into a very convincing dream pop groove. And, I guess, if I had one big criticism of it, that would be it: it sticks in that one lane almost too well (and I say this like we couldn't have thrown that same criticism at the Cocteau Twins all along). But, well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it (hello again there, Robin and Liz).

Truly, the band sounds absolutely enamoured with all of the great British rock music that was ignored by the mainstream in the wake of punk. The influences are countless and I can name drop bands for days that this album reminds me of, but I can't really say anything specific because there are just simply shades of influence. There are no direct nicks, be them through riffs or melodies. The band has just found a way to convincingly capture a snapshot of a vibe, a mood, a complete generation of sound.

Take a song like 'Endless Blue' for instance. Sure, in 2011, I can go and label it a complete Chameleons imitation. But, the fact remains, besides members of that band, I don't recall anyone doing a Chameleons imitation this well. Singer Faris Badwan seemingly can't help but sound like Mark Burgess (as he does for the entire album) while guitarist Josh Howard has Reg's tone nailed. Insert the flawless tempo and arrangement shift and I'm sold. Pretty stunning stuff, actually.

Amidst the rockin' and yet dreamy closing three song trilogy ('Moving Further Away,' 'Monica Gems' and especially 'Oceans Burning') is where the largest influence that looms over the album shines brightest. And I can't really help but love that, finally, someone has gone properly back to the Verve's A Storm in Heaven for inspiration, as it's one of the most sonically unique albums in modern British rock. Throw in some especially trippy moods lifted from Slowdive and you get a fittingly climatic closing to the Horrors' mini-masterpiece.

I can't say enough good about this album, honestly. Already a big fan of the music that clearly inspired it, I've been waiting for years for a band to come along and not just play new wave like like their favorite bands did, but to play it like they were there: simultaneously inspired by, and trying to outdo, all of their great peers.

Because this album surely would have fit right in with those greats had it existed twenty years ago.


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