Band of Horses is almost less of a “band” per se than more of a collective of musicians orbiting around the proverbial sun (of Horses) that is singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ben Bridwell. Since the band emerged out in the pacific west in the middle of the century’s first decade, Bridwell has been the one constant as over a dozen musicians have shuffled in and out of the band. There are also no actual horses involved and everything you believe about Band of Horses might just be a lie.
But what’s not a lie is that over the course of the band’s run, which started in 2004 and kicked off with the release of their debut album Everything All The Time in 2006, Bridwell and company have consistently produced melodic, rough & tumble, earnest alt-country lightly influenced by their Seattle brethren. Contemporaries of the band could be My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon, but whereas My Morning Jacket are prone to take big swings and Kings of Leon have evolved from garage shit kickers to anthem-penning, big-room crooners, Band of Horses have stayed the course. Each one of the band’s five albums has followed a similar pattern, balancing good fun, whiskey-drenched rockers, and tender-tinged, candle-light numbers.
On Friday, the band is set to release their sixth album, Things Are Great, an interesting title because, for most of us, I’m not sure I’d say things “are great.” But hey, to each their own. To celebrate the release of the album, I thought I’d take a gander at their catalog and do a ranking.
It should be noted that “Weed Party” just missed the cut here and the song was so close to making it, I felt the need to mention it. You can find all 21 songs included on this list in easily-digestible playlist form here.
20. “Knock Knock”
The opening track from 2012’s Mirage Rock is the kind of opener that doesn’t just grab your attention, it grabs your entire body and demands you look in its direction. The track is also a little bit of an anomaly for the group as they typically open their albums on the softer, more atmospheric side and then wait a beat before bringing in the rock troops.
19. “Casual Party”
Band of Horses’ songs can be easily grouped into two categories. There are the driving songs and the campfire songs. “Casual Party” is very much a driving song. Although to be fair, maybe your campfires aren’t as relaxing as mine are and if that’s the case, “Casual Party” is a tweener. But come on, we all know you would then be doing campfires wrong and that’s a you problem.
See, just two songs ago I said that “Knock Knock” wasn’t a typical album opener. It’s actually a song like “Factory” that is more common. But that doesn’t mean “Factory” isn’t as impactful as an opener. It just hits differently and also showcases how Bridwell has some luscious pop sensibilities to him. My man has layers, kid.
I love the bounce that drives “Compliments,” how it acts as something of a propulsion device not just for the song itself but for the person listening to it. In this case, me. I hear this song and I immediately start moving, whether it’s my head bobbing along and keeping time or my posterior going up and down, up and down. “Compliments” just gets you moving and on that note, that’s the last time I’ll mention my posterior. Promise.
16. “Islands on the Coast”
“Islands On The Coast” is kind of buried on Cease To Begin but it anchors the album’s back end, bringing an excellent album to a fantastic finish. There is a wildness to the song and recklessness to it that almost makes it sound as if a…wait for it, a band of horses riding free across the plains wrote it. But that’s crazy. Horses can’t write music. That we know of, of course.
15. “A Little Biblical”
Band of Horses came out so strong with their first two albums that the ones that followed get lost in the shuffle, especially the last two, Mirage Rock and Why Are You OK. But if you go back and listen to them, it’s not as if they’ve changed things up and deviated from the style that they came out swinging with. If anything as would be expected from a band entering their second decade together, maturity comes into play. If they had done a song like “A Little Biblical” earlier in their career, chances are it wouldn’t be as polished and poppy; instead probably being a little rougher around the edges. And while it’s an interesting sliding doors situation, I like the vibe of the version we ended up getting.
14. “Infinite Arms”
It’s a pretty song. Plain and simple. It has a rustic Brian Wilson sound to it. Campfire song if you’re interested and keeping track at home.
13. “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”
I once had a teacher who said that he liked the word “fuck” so much because “it sounded like metal hitting metal.” I think the thrashing parts of this song have that same sound. You can almost hear the tools in the garage rattling around as the guitars play.
12. “Our Swords”
Not for nothing but given the presence of so many two-person bands out there who more often than not, leave the bass at home, I appreciate Bridwell writing a song that features not one, but two bass lines. I also appreciate the pleasant pop simplicity of this song, how it could easily be so much more but works perfectly within the sparse arrangement Bridwell puts together.
11. “Solemn Oath”
Hey, it’s our first song from the band’s 2016 album Why Are You OK. No, wait. It’s not. That would be “Casual Party.” My bad. Head colds, am I right? Either way, I really just like Bridwell’s vocals on this track, especially as the verse opens and it sounds as if he’s calling out to someone lost in the wilderness and is trying to direct them back home.
10. “The First Song”
There are certain Band of Horses songs that have a dream-like quality to them. They’re slightly blurry and heavily atmospheric, a swirling cloud of reverb-heavy guitars, booming percussion, and Bridwell’s razor-thin vocals. Opening your debut with a song literally called “The First Song” is a bold move but it’s especially bold given the kind of song it is and how it’s not one of the band’s shit-kicking rockers. You have to think Bridwell was sending a message with this choice, that his band wasn’t just another alt-country band but something striving for more.
9. “Is There A Ghost”
I lived alone once and if you’ve ever done it, things can get weird. That kind of isolation has the potential to send your thoughts and emotions in interesting directions and yeah, you can find yourself asking something like “is there a ghost.” Musically, this song kind of reminds me of something Coldplay would have done before they became whatever the hell Coldplay is now with the song thumping and building in a fairly simplistic but effective way. And for the record, I don’t think there was a ghost in my apartment but there was a dude downstairs who would shout terrible beat poetry out the window. I would have preferred a ghost if we’re being honest.
8. “Detlef Schrempf”
The defining line of “Detlef Schrempf” is “My eyes can’t look at you any other way” and you could interpret it as being directed as a lover, friend, or maybe even a beloved local athlete who bails and signs with a rival franchise (see: Schrempf, Detlef.) However you want to take it, much like a lot of what Band of Horses does, it’s wonderfully beautiful in a less is more style.
By the time the band set up shop to record their third album, 2010’s Infinite Arms, there was some continuity within the band’s lineup, something that had been lacking up until that point. Bridwell has called it the band’s first real album, citing the lineup as the main reason. “Laredo” is easily the album’s high water mark; a tight little alt-country with a side of pop number that is wildly enough, both a driving song and a campfire song.
6. “Ode to LRC”
Band of Horses formed in Seattle but Bridwell took his time getting there, stopping in Arizona after. growing up in South Carolina. Having lived in South Carolina makes it perfectly acceptable for him to be considered a southern rocker and “Ode to LRC” is one of the band’s best southern rock tunes complete with its loose swing and ragged stomp. Of course, this being Band of Horses, it takes a left turn at the bridge, and in come the strings and the lush melodies, and man, Band of Horses keep you on your toes.
5. “The Great Salt Lake”
Do you play air guitar? I play air guitar. I love playing air guitar and don’t want to brag, but I think I’m pretty good at it. But me bragging about my air guitar air abilities aside, “The Great Salt Lake” is a killer air guitar song; one of many Band of Horses have. I think it’s their southern rock side actually as studies not at all conducted by anyone have shown that southern rock tunes are typically prone to high air guitar usage. That’s science. I mean, it’s not, but it could be.
4. “Slow Cruel Hands of Time”
Bridwell cops something of a Neil Young vibe on this excellent track from Mirage Rock. The vibe suits him and the delicate nature of this song wisely highlights Bridwell’s voice. It’s the kind of track that while dipping its toes into folk music makes a future for the band that much more interesting.
A melancholy song about the dangers of mob mentality, “Monsters” isn’t all bad news. There is a darkness and light to “Monsters,” which shows up at the tail end of Everything All The Time. “And hatred for all others/When awful people, they surround you/Well, ain’t they just like monsters?/They come to feed on me/Giant little animals to feed” Bridwell sings in a verse that repeats during the song. But alas, make way for positive thinking as Bridwell then belts out “Though to say we got much hope/If I am lost, it’s only for a little while.” It would have made for a wonderful album closer if not for “St. Augustine,” which in this case, edges it out just narrowly.
2. “No One’s Gonna Love You”
Is this the band’s best-known song? I think it might be and shoot, it should be for good reason. If you can sing “No one’s gonna love you more than I do” and have it sound as genuine as it does on this track, it deserves to live on and never truly fade away. And while Bridwell is barring his soul with the vocals, there is plenty going on musically that keeps the song from ever getting stale or soft. I do wonder what’s up with the breaking of bottles on people’s heads in the video but the middle part of that first decade was a weird time, so I’ll move on. If Band of Horses is never heard of again, a song like “No One’s Gonna Love You” will keep their music alive for years to come.
1. “The Funeral”
Yeah, “The Funeral” might be the song Band of Horses is best known for, although it might be one of those things where depending on the day, it alternates with “No One’s Gonna Love You.” But this is the tune that really got things going for the band. The first single from the band’s debut album has appeared in countless movies and TV shows and tops the band’s list of songs that have streamed on Spotify. Southern rock, alt-country rock, post-grunge rock – however you want to define it, it works because the song is everything to all people, taking the quiet/loud model used so often by grunge bands combined with Bridwell’s raw vocals and the easy-to-singalong with chorus and again, it’s another great track to play air guitar too. “The Funeral” is one of those rock songs that is just pure emotion and cathartic in its outpouring of energy. It’s compelling, refreshing, emotional, and more. It never gets old. Never.