The Horrors ‘Skying’ – Review

21 Jul

The Horrors change their sound more than they change their clothes (which is saying something) so it’s no surprise to find that third album ‘Skying’ is quite a bit different to its renowned predecessor ‘Primary Colours’. Having emerged in 2006 as garage rockers, they found more success once they traded in their organ for a synth. The resulting album was an astonishing blend of prog, shoegaze and synth pop and it made them the Susan Boyle of indie – ‘Primary Colours’ was the amazing album that nobody saw coming. As I say, third album ‘Skying’ is a different beast altogether, but it feels like a natural progression rather than another grand departure; It’s brighter, it’s bigger, and it’s more ambitious.

Track one, ‘Chainging The Rain’, opens with a baggy drum beat and shaking maracas – from the off it’s clear that this album has a lot to thank the early 90’s for. Baggy is the word that keeps cropping up when I think about ‘Skying’, and though it’s not a genre that gets a lot of love these days, The Horrors remind you why it was so popular in the years before britpop. Here the rhythms are funky and high in the mix whilst the vocals are heavy with effects and low in the mix. At first it’s a little jarring, records aren’t really mixed like this nowadays (especially albums that go in at number 5 on the album chart) but after a while you get used to the sound.

Track two, ‘You Said’, begins simply with a seductive keyboard and Faris in whisper mode; earlier this year his side project Cats Eyes released their excellent debut album and whilst there is little to connect the two records, Faris has clearly learnt the art of restraint and composure from his other band. ‘Primary Colours’ was at its weakest when Faris reverted to shouty mode, and thankfully he never makes that mistake here. In fact the whole band are much more restrained and composed, something that I like but also slightly regret – only the excellent ‘Monica Gems’ (a Villiage Green era Kinks tribute) gets loud and dirty, which is a slight shame as The Horrors used to be a brilliantly ferocious live band.

But the transition may just be worth it as it leaves us with numbers like ‘Endless Blue’, which begins with (dare I say it) a space jazz intro before bursting into a Joy Division-esque, post punk rocker where Faris’ slightly distorted vocals hover below feedback and horns. Speaking of which, the horn section makes a reappearance on first single ‘Still Life’ which sounds like the obvious next step on from the likes of ‘Who Can say’ and ‘Whole New Way.’ For all the backward guitar loops, trance bass lines and hazy vocals, this is essentially synth pop at its finest. But whilst The Horrors have clearly moved on there are still hints of where they come from. With its loud/quiet dynamic and organ riff, ‘I Can See Through You’ sounds most like The Horrors of old, indeed it’s possibly the only song they’ve ever recorded that would sit comfortably on any of the band’s three albums to date.

One member of the band (I forget who) is the elder brother of Freddie from The Vaccines. When commenting on the difference between the two bands, Freddie said something along the lines of  ‘They start with sonics and we start with songs.’ It’s an obvious distinction to make; ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’ was a minimal pop punk album, but even at their most minimal, The Horrors layer their music with effects and reverb. Just occasionally this results in songs that aren’t fully realized as songs – it’s as if they said ‘how can this song benefit the sound’ rather than ‘how can this sound benefit the song.’ Therefore we are left with the technically ambitious but rather lightweight ‘Dive In’, and the even more pondrous ‘Wide Eyed’, both of which are essentially mid-paced psychedelic jams.

But then Skying is a typical psychedelic record; when it’s good it’s very good and when it’s bad it’s downright bizzare. The lyrics on ‘Skying’ are generally quite strange, vague and unmemorable (lots of talk about floating, seeing vivid colours and loosing touch with reality) save for two or three excellently executed songs about longing and nostalgia (one of which is the epic eight minute finale ‘Oceans Burning’, the album’s best moment). Musically as well they sometimes skirt a bit too close the edge of what is acceptably trippy and indulgent, which leaves me feeling that overall ‘Skying’ is not as successful as ‘Primary Colours’ (an album rooted more in reality). But such is the way with bands that push the boundires, you win some, you loose some, and in fairness The Horrors win a lot more than they lose. I guess it was always going to be hard to follow-up one of the best albums of recent years and the band certainly haven’t let anyone down; ‘Skying’ is an accomplished, ambitious and at times stunningly well made album.

8/10

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