Band of Horses are 'OK'

The roots-rock band's new album is largely a return to earlier form

Band of Horses' new album proves that sometimes you have to go back to go forward.
Band of Horses' new album proves that sometimes you have to go back to go forward.

The new Band of Horses album isn't perfect.

But the worst thing about it might be the lack of a question mark at the end of its title, Why Are You OK. And if that's the worst thing you can say about an album, it bodes well for the actual music contained within.

In Band of Horses' case, all the above is also a relief after the relative listlessness of the group's previous full-length effort, 2012's Mirage Rock. Good news: Why Are You OK is significantly better than its predecessor.

There was a time when Band of Horses, which started in Seattle and is now based in Charleston, South Carolina, could do no wrong. Built around the skyscraping voice and restless spirit of lead singer and songwriter Ben Bridwell, the band burst onto the scene in 2006 with Everything All The Time, a shimmering synthesis of reverberant indie rock and Southern twang. It was a near-perfect debut and one of the best albums of that year.

The band followed it up with two more wonderful records: 2007's Cease to Begin and 2010's Infinite Arms. The former ably continued the sound of the debut and featured two of Bridwell's very best songs ("Is There A Ghost" and "No One's Gonna Love You"). The latter explored slower tempos and a softer sound, pushing Band of Horses toward classic rock but also emphasizing their ever-beautiful melodies.

Why Are You OK sounds like the logical follow-up to Infinite Arms, but it takes its sweet time getting there. The album's second half is better than its first, precisely because it's stuffed with the kind of hazy dreamsongs that Bridwell and company can apparently (and appropriately, non-believers might say) crank out in their sleep.

"Country Teen" is a lovely tick-tock pop tune that sounds like the Beach Boys toying with dusty electronics. "Throw My Mess" effectively fuses slide guitar and some barbed production choices into something like a psychedelic hoedown. The more upbeat songs here aren't quite as successful, except for "Casual Party," a hard-charging repudiation of inane small talk.

And then there's the seven-minute opening track, "Dull Times / The Moon." Its first five minutes feature Bridwell cooing about setting suns and slow clouds while guitars ring like wind chimes on a breezy front porch in the South Carolina low country. Then, in its final two minutes, the song shifts into a scorching rocker, with Bridwell chanting "Home is where the heart is / home is where you are."

In a way, "Dull Times / The Moon" is the perfect song title for Band of Horses, because when they nail what they do well, it's like an awe-inspiring journey across the sparkling horizon. But when they miss the mark, it's time for a nap. Why Are You OK lands on the right side of that dichotomy. ♦

Band of Horses with The Wild Feathers • Tue, Aug. 16, at 8 pm • $29.50/$35 • All-ages • Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • • 624-1200