When I think of Band of Horses I picture endless mountains, soaring skylines, bandanas, facial hair and the occassional gorgeous love ballad. While Infinite Arms draws on all of the elements that made Band of Horses one of the better know indie bands of the past few years, it lags most noticebly when aiming for the more ethereal, epic aspects of prior works. With a voice like Ben Bridwell at the heart of your songs, it’s tough to create music that will turn a listener off, though the problem with this album is that it isn’t as engaging or unexpected as Cease to Begin or Everything All the Time. The former was filled with densely-packed pop songs that swirled with a southern twange, and the latter was dry and bright, twinkling with emotion, like the endless horizon of a desert.
Infinite Arms starts out with the string-drenched “Factory” and you think this may be their most emotional and beautiful work to date. But they run out of gas shortly after. Songs such as “Laredo”, “Compliments”, and “Northwest Apartment” all sound like unenthusiastic takes on older Horses songs. Bridwell’s voice still sounds fantastic, like Neil Young with a voice coach, but the music lacks energy and originality. However in “Dilly”, positioned mid-way through the album, Band of Horses stretches its limits and succeeds. Instantly catchy and surprisingly layered, this Grizzly Bear-esque emphasis on chamber music sounds like Band of Horses as you’ve never heard them before. I could listen to an entire album of songs that play with the styles explored here. The album ends with “Bartles + James”, the longest and possibly most endearing song on the album. It’s an accessible and laudable effort from a band that has been sneakily successful over the past five years, but whether they deserved the hype and expectations that preceded this album or not, it surely falls short.