More than two years in the works, the latest Band of Horses album Infinite Arms is finally ready to drop this week. It’s been nearly three years since Sub Pop released the Carolina-based band’s last studio album, Cease to Begin, so fans and critics are eager to check things out. Ben Bridwell — the main songwriter, singer, guitarist, coach, spokesman, and ringleader — couldn’t be more excited.
It’s encouraging to hear genuine optimism and excitement from an artist who’s endured and survived major ups and downs in his career.
“Today is that special day when we actually got the physical copies in our hands,” Bridwell said last week, speaking from Cleveland where he and his bandmates — drummer Creighton Barrett, bassist Bill Reynolds. lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey, and keyboardist Ryan Monroe — were on the bill with Pearl Jam. “It’s only the third time it’s ever happened. It has been a long road. We’re finally going down a new one.”
The Horses recently returned from a jaunt across northern Europe. A few weeks ago, they embarked on their spring tour, traveling from the Southeast through the Midwest (where the band opened for Pearl Jam on several dates) and onward to the Northwest.
Infinite Arms officially arrives on May 18 through a label configuration of Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia. Bridwell and the band funded and produced the album themselves, stepping away from Sub Pop. Bridwell recently resurrected his own indie label Brown Records, but he’s still trying to figure out his role. “The Horses have the help of Fat Possum as well. We were such great friends with Sub Pop, so it was rough leaving them, but this seems like the best configuration.
The first sessions for the 12 new songs on Infinite Arms began at Echo Mountain studio in Asheville, N.C., moved to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, and then relocated back to Echo Mountain, where the band brainstormed at a steady but leisurely pace.
Bridwell considers this week’s release to be a coming-out party. “There are several songwriters in the band now,” he says. “For the first time, things were really collaborative in the studio. We really try to utilize those tools now. Of course, with Tyler and Bill on a record for the first time, we have a lot more depth of musicianship and songwriting. I’m more proud of this record for that more than anything. It’s finally not so much of a one-man-show vibe.”
The instrumental style and lyrical tone of Infinite Arms resembles the heavier, more straightforward material of the previous albums, but things seem tighter and more focused. Emboldened with fat drum sounds, dense rhythm guitar textures, and elegant organ sounds, the new songs have a little less of the big-room reverb that soaked the previous recordings.
If Cease to Begin was a chiming foray into an atmospheric dream-rock realm, Infinite Arms comes back down to earth with a ruddy sense of purpose and a sturdier sense of confidence. “NW Apartment” is a pounding, droning, upbeat rocker thick with harmonies. A similar wall-of-guitar foundation steadies the mid-tempo “Laredo.” The swingin’, head-bobbin’ groove and quivering singing of “Compliments” feel a little more familiar. The strummier and more orchestrated titled track — a lilting, melodic ballad in 6/8 time — finds the band at its most fluid.
“Luckily, things have happened organically with this band from the get-go,” Bridwell says. “Now that we have consistency with the membership, it’s been a cool experience. We got to kinda go crazy,” he laughs. “It’s a new kind of weird for us — liberating as hell. We did stuff live and spontaneously … just kind of ripping up the book on how it’s supposed to be done. Hopefully, it doesn’t alienate the whole fanbase, you know?”