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TBTS Reviews: The Horrors, Skying

August 27, 2011

If you’ll excuse my use of “rock” as an adjective, I must say that the Horrors’ excellent new album, Skying, features one of purest rock moments I’ve heard in a song in quite some time. It’s one of those moments that takes you aback and makes you say, “Now THAT’S rock and roll.” This particular one is so wonderfully surprising that I’m tempted to issue a spoiler alert, in case you want to hear it with fresh ears. If that’s the case, check out the track “Endless Blue”before you proceed reading.

The track starts innocuously enough, with a pretty but somewhat inconsequential 100-second introduction, filled with shimmering sound effects and short trumpet bursts. You feel like you know what you’re in for—five minutes of soothing, pillow-soft peace and quiet before the louder, more in-your-face sounds return. But then all hell breaks loose, with a bracing time change, a blasting guitar riff, and the characteristically strong vocal presence of Faris Badwan, this time swooping in on a near-tangible gust of maxed-out reverb. Even after a dozen listens, “Endless Blue” still surprises and thrills.

Speaking of Badwan, his vocals are visceral throughout the album, ragged and raw-throated for most of it. But his versatility really shines through upon repeated listens. On “Still Life,” the album’s first single and the song most likely to gain crossover traction among Coldplay, Keane, and Snow Patrol enthusiasts, Badwan strikes a great balance between rough and gentle. “Still Life” could have easily gone too far toward “modern power ballad” territory, if not for the earthiness of Badwan’s voice to keep everything in balance. On the next track, “Wild Eyed,” Badwan is even gentler and almost unrecognizable. The band proves itself versatile here as well, with squiggly, tweaked-out horns dominating the fade out after three minutes of organ-drenched loveliness.

Overall, I am enamored with the Horrors’ masterful command of so many strands of the last 30 years of British rock. Just off the top of my head, comparisons of Skying to past offerings by Echo & the Bunnymen, the Chameleons, the Psychedelic Furs, Swervedriver, and the Verve all seem fair. All of these legendary bands offered compelling, full-contrast blends of light and dark, cold and warm, while never sacrificing sticky melodies and heart-rending dramatic elements. On stirring tracks such as “I Can See Through You” and “Dive In,” the Horrors’ debt to these predecessors is apparent, but no single similarity discredits the Horrors as being a simple knock-off artist. Rather, by synthesizing these disparate influences so successfully on Skying, the Horrors emerge as one of the best British rock bands we have, and about as close to “original” as we’re likely to get from a band with aspirations to popular appeal.

In short, I’d call it a victory when a band can, in 2011, ride a collection of songs worthy of Swervedriver and the Chameleons to the upper reaches of the UK pop album charts. With the rich, forceful Skying, that’s just what the Horrors have done.

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