The Horrors ‘Luminous’ – Review

8 Jun

The Horrors have built a career on shocks. It seems like a lifetime ago that I came across five ghoulish faces staring back at me from the cover of NME in 2006. The Horrors had been playing shows a matter of months and yet they were already deemed exciting enough to warrant an NME front page. With their comic names (Faris Baldwin became Faris Rotter), nightmarish costumes and bizarre stage antics, The Horrors provoked reaction with just about everything they did; except that is the music, a thrilling strain of garage rock which got completely overlooked. Three years later it was the music that shocked when in 2009 they released ‘Sea Within A Sea’, a stunning,  kreutrock epic that erased any notion of The Horrors as all style and no substance.  2011’s ‘Skying’ was another interesting left-turn, into a murky realm where Synth Pop and Shoegaze cross pollinated. It certainly wasn’t as strong as 2009’s ‘Primary Colours’ but it was another excellent album that surprised a lot of people.

I’ve spoken to people who are interested in this record only in so far as it can provide another shock. Those people are going to be disappointed with ‘Luminous’, as it’s virtually the identical twin of ‘Skying’. Sadly the band are ploughing the same ground with diminished rewards. The big difference is that where that album had guitars that sounded like guitars and synths that were made to sound like guitars, this album has synths that sound like synths and guitars that are made to sound like synths. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. The relegation of the guitarist Josh Hayward and the promotion of Synth wizard Tom Coward means that this is a rather tame album compared to its predcessor. The Horrors attitude and commendable ferocity has always been initiated by the throbbing axe-work of Hayward. Here he sounds relegated to a bit player. Compard to ‘Skying’ and certainly ‘Primary Colours’ and ‘Strange House’, This is the sound of a neutered band.

It’s music for scientists  made by scientists. Music that makes half-hearted gestures to the dancefloor but never works up enough groove or energy to coax you there. It’s music that expands, revurbarates, wanders and prods – but never connects. This is asexual music made by men who spent far too long in the studio and not enough time with the groupies. It’s music that is very clever, and don’t the band just know it. They want your plaudits and not your blood or your sweat or your tears. Faris’ lyrics, whilst never complex or particularly insightful, have always been heartfelt and purposeful. For whatever reason, they aren’t doing it for me this time around. At best, his vague musings on love offer simple rewards, in that they melt quite nicely in to the background, keeping your attention fixed firmly on what he thinks matters – the music. They aren’t however an attraction in their own right and because the band excel in so may other ways, it’s one thing holding them back from greater heights.

But this isn’t a bad album; in fact in certain respects it’s astonishing. Sure It’s a mildly boring, long, heavy record with very few moments of levity or drive- but it sounds better than any other album I’ve heard all year. The textures are exactly how the band describe them – luminous. The songs are so dense and layered with glorious sounds that you know have been slaved over and have turned out just so. ‘I See You’ builds and builds like it’s aiming for the heavens, in a glorious reverse of ‘Sea Within a Sea’s’ epic descending collapse. ‘Sleepwalk’ is the exact musical equivilant of sleepwalking, and regardless of whether that is something you want to hear, it’s a commendable sonic achievement. From the swirling reverb of ‘First Days of Spring’ to the twangs of ‘Change Your Mind’, this is a perfectly realised soundscape.

But that doesn’t autmoticlly make for a great album. Thing is, the album also sets a lot of store in the strength of the choruses, only they aren’t all that mememorable. In fact The Horrors have been regurgitating the same melodies for years – ‘I See You’ is basically ‘So Now You Know’ which is basically ‘I Can See Through You’ which is basically ‘Who Can Say’. All fine and good, but we’ve heard it all before. The moody ‘Change Your Mind’ however has noprecedent   in the band’s discography and the poppy ‘Falling Star’ also breaks new ground for the band. On both these tracks it’s the melodies that drive the songs forward, they don’t feel like an afterthought. For me, that’s always the best way to craft a song.

‘Luminous’ is not a disastor but for fans used to reinvention it’s quite a comedown. It’s shocking for it’s lack of shocks. It worries me that the band are moving further away from the spontenaious energy of their early live shows and recordings towards an increasingly sexless and air-sealed sound. The Horrors are gifted musicians and experimental tecnicians and that strength shines here, but they’re also capable of being wild and eccentric, a side to the band that just isn’t represented on ‘Luminous’. For a band used to taking big steps forward it might be worth taking a couple of steps backward to remember where they started – as five ghoulish faces with hunger, attitude and energy to burn.



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