One of my favorite things about being a fan of any band is watching them progress as artists. I love going back and comparing one album to the next, especially chronologically, to watch as a band moves (hopefully) forward in their songwriting. It's always a bonus when new music is released to feel that an artist has given you something that stands up well against previous efforts. In this case the artist in question is Band of Horses.
Mirage Rock is the fourth full-length album from Band of Horses. In November of last year I finally made their last album, Infinite Arms, an Album of the Day...because it took me a full year to fully embrace the record the way I fully embraced the first two albums. It was just a little too "different" and "grandiose" for my liking initially. Over time though that album grew on me like weeds until I was hooked. For Mirage Rock it took only about two full listens before I put this album into continuous, uninhibited rotation.
It struck me on the last record that maybe Band of Horses had spent a lot of time listening to Pet Sounds era Beach Boys because that's what some of the songwriting and production had reminded me of. If I had to come up with a similar comparison this time around I would say the band had been revisiting albums from the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, John Melloncamp, and Neil Young. Songs like "How To Live", "Shut-In Tourist", "Electric Music", "Long Vows" and the first half of "Dumpster World" are testaments to the return of the early 70's influenced Americana that the band so often hung their hat on during the first two albums but seemed to seemingly ignore on the last album.
That's not to say that this album is a step back in time or a band trying to relive past glories. On the contrary, this band has progressed into writing anthemic, indie-fueled Americana in a way they've never done before and in a way that most bands of this ilk wish they could. I'll also say that it doesn't hurt that Tyler Ramsey seems to be even more involved in the songwriting process. He's only credited with writing/co-writing two songs but I'll go out on a limb and say that everything about his style and songwriting is all over this record and if you've ever listened to his solo albums (and you should) that's a very, very good thing.
Mirage Rock is going to inevitably put off those who want more indie and less Americana from this band. I get it. We can't all love pedal steel guitars and songs about travesing the backroads of rural America. This band won over a truckload of new fans with their last album and it would have been really easy for them to just slap together Infinte Arms Pt. II. But they didn't and not only do I love the outcome but I respect the effort.