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.