Easily one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year, The Horrors’ third album marks another step in the evolution in the band, moving from shoegaze to a more synth-driven sound. Whilst Primary Colours was critically adored and loved by fans, Skying looks set to achieve an equal status, or perhaps even eclipsing their sophomore effort.
You can hear Still Life, the first track to appear from the album, below
From whipping boys to darlings of the indie world in the space of two years and one album, The Horrors have entered the realm wherein every future release will be awaited with baited breath from both critics and fans. “Primary Colours” showed the band had talent and vision far greater than their garage rock roots, trying their hand at MBV-style shoegaze. After a further two years and numerous side-projects (Spider & The Flies, Lumina, Cat’s Eyes), the Southend five-piece have shifted direction once more with album three, "Skying".
Elements of “Primary Colours” still remain on “Skying”; there’s more than a few shozegaze guitars chucked into the mix, but the emphasis here is clearly on the band’s rhythm section. Bass and beats take precedence, with Rhys Webb and Joe Spurgeon channelling The Stone Roses throughout. Opener “Changing The Rain” features a bowel-shaking bassline over sweeping melodic synths, marrying the swagger of baggy to a new wave sound. The album then takes a swerve into a poppier territory, with “You Said” having a Bowie feel albeit Bowie under layers of dream guitars, and “I Can See Through You” coming off like a lost 60s beat hit, nicking the beat to “I Am The Resurrection” and slapping a retro organ over it. If the video for the latter isn’t an homage to swingin’ Sixties music TV shows, there’s a definite trick being missed.
Despite these detours to an arguably more pop sound, the punk bite of early Horrors lingers on in tracks like “Dive In” and “Endless Blue”, the former sounding like a unlikely and bizarre reworking of something from the Manics’ “The Holy Bible”, whilst the latter bursts to life as an MC5-meets-Joy Division rocker, after a strolling bass ‘n’ brass intro. Speaking of brass, there’s a heavy dub influence to “Skying”, with a good handful of tracks falling into a dreamy, swaying strut with trumpets worked in at every available moment. You wouldn’t have thought dub could possibly work in the hands of five goths, but they pull it off with aplomb.
"Still Life", the first track to appear from the album, is definitely a highlight. Tears For Fears synths, psychedelic samples and a strutting bassline push the track forward into a big, arms-in-the-air chorus, which eventually has yet more brass thrown into it, creating a triumphant, chest beating (well, as chest-beating as The Horrors can be at least) future anthem.
The final three tracks form a curious closing for the album, shifting moods and sounds faster, almost as if a microcosm for the band’s own progression so far. “Moving Further Away” begins as a brighter, lighter cousin of “Sea Within A Sea” from Primary Colours”, all krautrock beaks and synth riffs, before a scuzzy guitar riff walks in around the halfway mark. From there the track spirals into a Kraftwerk break (seaside samples and all) before returning the dirty Grinderman-esque guitars, a move that is fascinating as it is thrilling. “Monica Gems” sees the band embrace their inner Britpop, all estuary vowels and spiky guitars. It’s also a bit Kinksy, not just because of its title. The album closes with “Oceans Burning”, a lilting near-ballad which is the only real weak point of the album. With more listens, has the potential to either be the best thing the band has ever done, as the track just plods along for roughly five minutes, before bouncing to life with massively effected guitars and one last sublime bassline.
"Skying" more than outstrips the band’s debut "Strange House"(that almost goes with out saying, I think) and definitely stands up to its predecessor. There’s something new to discover in every listen, especially as no track dips below the four minute mark, giving the album a 54 minute running time over its ten tracks. "Skying" is not exactly an easy listen; no stadium rock hooks a la Glasvegas or myriad of melodies like Arctic Monkeys’ "Suck It And See", but then The Horrors aren’t that kind of band that aims for or needs mass audience appeal. They’re already something of a cult band, but this album is sure to cement them as a truly great band.
A bit of Horrors over-saturation on Hitsville so far this week. Following on from our review of their sublime third album "Skying", the video for highlight “Still Life” has arrived online. It’s a suitably psychedelic affair; warped multi-coloured visuals of the band chopped together with shots resembling the Stargate sequence of 2001. And if that’s not enough to satiate you, the entire “Skying” album is streaming below. Don’t miss out.
WATCH /// THE HORRORS - I CAN SEE THROUGH YOU
Pretty sure The Horrors have missed a trick by not making a 1960s Top Of The Pops pastiche for the video for "I Can See Through You". To me that would’ve been a perfect match, but nope, looks like they’re sticking with the druggy psychedelic look for the time being. At least it sort of looks a bit like the StarGate in 2001: A Space Odyssey…
The premier pop star on the planet collides with a host of indie darlings and producers on Born This Way - The Remix. Is it an attempt by Lady Gaga to grab some alt. cred or is she just embracing the lesser known acts she loves and wants to shine a light on? Well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask her, but it’s difficult to imagine Ms Germanotta bopping away to The Horrors or Wild Beasts (before going on stage to shoot fireworks from her bosom (or whatever her stage show consists of now)
Also, a quick question; why do remixes always seems to last double the original track’s length and turn the most harmless pop songs into dull club fodder? On …The Remix, only three tracks clock in at under four minutes, with eight others lasting past five. Zedd's rework of "Born This Way" stretches out and outstays its welcome, going from thrilling to bland after three minutes, whilst Foster The People take a shot at making "The Edge Of Glory" a euphoric monster, but retain none of the camp fun of the original.
But it’s not all monotonous beats. R&B blog idol The Weeknd is the man charged with the task of reworking Gaga’s newest single "Marry The Night", and succeeds fairly well in putting his own stamp on the song; throwing in damn fine beat and dreampop synths, before dropping everything for a second half made up of moody piano. Goldfrapp's take on "Judas" is banger, pitchshifting Gaga’s vocal resulting in something that sounds a little like Hercules & Love Affair, only superb. Metronomy's "Yoü and I" remix is far removed from the MOR original, stripping it to the bare, almost ambient bones and is possibly this writer’s remix of the year (it also far outstrips Wild Beasts’ attempt, which isn’t bad but has nothing on Metronomy’s version).
Rounding out the British indie contingent are The Horrors, Hurts and Two Door Cinema Club. The former’s version of "Bloody Mary" is as you’d expect; slow-burning krautrock synths to make The Radiophonic Workshop proud, whereas Manc duo Hurts go a bit dubstep for their “Judas” remix but retain their trademark synthy bombast. Two Door Cinema Club’s remix of "Electric Chapel" is fairly routine, bouncing along with a nice groove that may point to an electronic sound for their second album. The final fifth of the record, made up of Twin Shadow's “Born This Way”, Royksopp's ten minute version of Judas and The Edge Of Glory remixed Sultan & Ned Shepard, makes for a fun close to the record. Twin Shadow’s mix sounds almost like classic era Michael Jackson with one hell of a funky bassline and a pure honest pop nous that’s all but disappeared from the charts, Sultan and Shepard channel Daft Punk to good effect for their track whilst Royksopp present us with a near unrecognisable ten minutes of icy Scandanavian beats.
The rest of the record is fairly dull and predictable save for a few tracks; "Scheiße", "Americano" and "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion" are your typical euphoric club tunes that never seem to get played in clubs. You begin to think they’re only included for mainstream radio airplay or to lure in those who prefer their dance music dumber that a Transformers movie.
Born This Way - The Remix is one of the better remix albums to be associated with a top level popstar and it helps that Gaga (or her label) has been fairly eclectic in her choice of remixers. God knows no one wants a Skrillex or James Blake remix anywhere near Gaga. The fact that her songs can be moulded and morphed into pretty much any shape is a sign that Lady Gaga is here to stay.
If The Horrors’ career path teaches us anything, it’s that first impressions and first albums are too important. Written off as po-faced comedy goths on their first record Strange House, the Southend quintet became critical darlings with the radical departure on Primary colours; out went Cramps-aping garage rock, in came a swirling blend of krautrock and shoegaze. Two years later and they’ve pulled it off again.
Skying is a dense, groove based album and the fact that it was made on a fair amount of drugs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The psychedelic opener “Changing The Rain” sets the tone with its chunky bass and hazy, baggy beat, which sounds like nothing else around at the moment. “Moving Further Away” and “Oceans Burning” tread a similar path to “Sea Within A Sea”, experimenting with what the band can achieve sonically, but buried in between such tracks are the straight ahead pop tracks you’d never thought would come from The Horrors. “Still Life” has finally given the band a big, singalong anthem, whilst “I Can See Through You” is a concise gem of 60s pop.
They may always have their detractors, but with the trajectory they’re on, The Horrors are likely to become one of those special groups in the lineage of classic British bands.
It’s over. We can no longer keep posting filler “end of year” lists. It’s back to real blogging now…
The Hitsville Albums Of 2011 List, as voted for by you, in full:
- Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
- Laura Marling - A Creature I Don’t Know
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver
- The Horrors - Skying
- Wu Lyf - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne
- SBTRKT - SBTRKT
- Metronomy - The English Riviera
- Wild Beasts - Smother
- Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
- Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
- Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind Of Fix
- The Chapman Family - Burn Your Town
- PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
- James Blake - James Blake
- Nicola Roberts - Cinderella’s Eyes
- Slow Club - Paradise
- Mastodon - The Hunter
- Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
- Drake - Take Care
- The Weeknd - House Of Balloons/Thursday
- Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything
- Friendly Fires - Pala
- Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
- Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation
- M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx - We’re New Here
- Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
- Noel Gallagher - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
- Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
- Lil B - I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
- Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
- Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
- Terius Nash - 1977
- The Antlers - Burst Apart
- Yuck - Yuck
- Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
- The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
- The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
- Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything’s Getting Older
- Battles - Gloss Drop
- Tom Waits - Bad As Me
- Real Estate - Days
- Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
- Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth
- Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
- St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
- Childish Gambino - Camp
- Death Grips - Exmilitary
- Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
There you have it, your fifty albums of the year. Pretty eclectic bunch aren’t you? Some superb picks alongside some, well, not so superb picks. At least Lulu wasn’t in there…
Listen: The Horrors - I See You
The first track taken from The Horrors’ fourth album isn’t exactly radio-ready single material but it is a huge and very welcome return for the Southend-On-Sea quintet. “I See You” doesn’t represent a huge reinvention for the band (as the releases of both Primary Colours and Skying did), rather picking up where they left off last time; whirlwind guitars, sparkling synthesisers and sights trained on the big leagues.