The Horrors - Skying

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2011-07-11

Well, it certainly felt like we were promised something special from The Horrors this time around. After the unexpected delight of second album Primary Colours transformed them in an instant from gawky goth joke to one of the most promising UK bands around, you could sense a crackle surrounding the group, an electric air of anticipation similar to that once conjured by Blur or Radiohead after their respective sophomore albums. Everyone knew, although it wasn't explicitly stated, that the floppy haired boys were cooking up something different, ambitious, career-defining...

 

Happily, Skying inhabits those first two labels in excelsis, while not bothering too much which the latter. However fist-punchingly great the music on here is, you never feel one could sling 'the album The Horrors were born to make' style glib statements at it. Rather, this is exactly the album the band set out to make right now. Who knows what far-out, leftfield or perfect pop sounds tomorrow may find them making? But right now, this is one of the most consistent and consistently surprising sets of music you'll hear in 2011.

 

So what's the sound on Skying? There's been a fair bit of mumble of 'The Horrors go baggy', and there's certainly some evidence of that. Opening song 'Changing the Rain' and 'Dive In' both bare the marks of baggy: shuffling, danceable grooves, chiming, repeating guitar melodies and drawled vocals from Faris Badwan. However, what Skying recalls most, in feel as well as sound, is the great intelligent pop albums of the early 80s, delivered by the likes of The Associates, The Teardrop Explodes, Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Simple Minds. This was an era when a new sound and a new idea were as important in the pop firmament as great hair and a nagging melody. Throughout it's playing time, Skying is never less than accessible, but it never surrenders its strangeness, it's lysergic, crooked, otherworldly air.

 

Every track seems to bubble up on a psych-pop wave before the band shape it into a killer song in their own sweet time. The feeling that this is a collective of musicians who have surrendered any desire to prove their worth is palpable and liberating. In giving up the need to show off, The Horrors have reached something like their full potential. Some fans may miss the shoegaze skuzz which pervaded Primary Colours but that genre's aesthetics are still in evidence here. It's just that, on songs such as 'You Said', the top-layer of scum has been scrapped off to reveal the gently aching romance which lurks beneath so much shoegaze.

 

What's also revealed is how great a vocalist Badwan has become. On the verses of the spiky, spiteful 'I Can See Through You' he gives us a few spooky Boweisms. Later, on first single 'Still Life', he's all stately, reserved grandeur a la a prelapsarian Jim Kerr. The meaning of the lyrics may still be pretty much a moot point, but this band now have the collective power and verve to invest even words as mundane as "I can see through you/ and I don't get it" or "When you wake up/ you will find me" with emotional charge.

 

As with Primary Colours, part of the fun is spotting the influences, but this time there's the shock of what the band does with them. 'Endless Blue' starts off sounding like an obscure 80s Pulp track with brass straight off Teardrop Explodes' Kilimanjaro parping along, before the song explodes into the kind of full-bloodied rock riff you seriously doubted these knobbly-kneed boys could muster. Another jaw-dropping evolution happens on 'Moving Further Away' which segues from early Depeche Mode synth-pop to pastoral Krautrock before building to an almost classic rock coda. Off all the sounds and textures employed, brass is the most interesting recurring feature, and a shrewd move since it's a sound few bands (with the exception of These New Puritans last year) are exploiting right now. Horns crop up again on 'Still Life', accentuating its imperial stature.

 

The most incongruous influence on the album, however, appears on standout track 'Monica Gems', which sounds exactly like one of those early Suede b-sides which were so gloriously, woozily trippy and heavy it made you wonder why the band bothered with the glam rock knock-offs that formed the majority of their a-sides. Over a heart-stopping guitar riff, Badwan even manages a dead-on approximation of Brett Anderson's trademark "Aw-oooow"s. It's a lovely moment, more so for being so unexpected.

 

Final track 'Burning Oceans' initially seems like a slightly low-key ballad to end proceedings on, but it's psychotropic, hard-rocking coda extends itself out until it almost becomes a complete song in its own right. Again, it's typical of an album whose makers seem to have managed to confound expectations effortlessly. In doing so, The Horrors have unquestionably cemented their place as the most vital guitar band in the UK right now. Possibly the best thing about Skying is that you genuinely can't wait to hear what they do next.

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