Weekend Listening: Cease to Begin by Band of Horses
Released: October 9, 2007 by Sub Pop
Recommended if you like: singing along with bearded men expressing their tattered love
Notable Tracks: “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Is There a Ghost,” “Detlef Schrempf,” “Islands on the Coast”
I drove home tonight fully intending to write about a proto-punk band that has been shaking my car windows all week, but then life happened and as I turned on my hi fi, meaning to put on the driving beats I’ll bring to you in a coming column soon, my fingers instead called up the Band of Horses album Cease to Begin.
If this album feels dichotomous at times, pulled between heavy bass drums and fluid guitar riffs, the opening track “Is There a Ghost” provides a perfect mix of what’s to come. Ben Bridewell’s voice hangs so distinctly inside this roaring background, and the lyrics encapsulate much of what this album is about – a ghosted love, a haunted mind. Despite the lyrics repeating, appealing to us, demanding to know if there’s a ghost, refusing to believe it, the fullness of sound behind it distracts and makes us think this is a different kind of album. “Ode to LRC” only adds to that feeling, with a classic indie rock construction that’s nice, if kind of background noise.
But then there’s “No One’s Gonna Love You,” a title that stops short of the essential part, the part that makes you bleed and wish for someone to say you, on some cold winter night, no one is ever gonna love you more than I do. This isn’t a slow romantic song, like those 50’s crooners who purr about the kind of sweet love that ends in longing innocence. Opening with a dreamy, almost twangy guitar hanging in the air alone, the drums hit and suddenly you’re surrounded, completely lost in the haze that is this song. Bridewell’s voice, not soft, not compromising, doesn’t shout, doesn’t hold notes for too long, but is instead truly just a vehicle for recounting a love damaged and split, wounded and ending. Here, more than other places on this album, are we being told more than carried.
You should listen to this song when you want to be alone but don’t want to be alone.
You should listen to this song, loudly playing in your car, driving down a foggy highway to a house full of lovely people but without the person that’s just your person.
You should listen to this song and wrap yourself in it.
“Detlef Schrempf,” the track immediately following, holds your hand through the aching that follows extraction. Quieter, but no less compellingly forward, Bridewell pulls us beyond the fresh cut of the end, when the love we have for another is only stained by the bitter tears of leaving, or being abandoned, into the safety of time past. This song is a beautiful warning about how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, sung by the one who has remnants now of love, but not the kind of tie that only seems unbreakable until one of you breaks it.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this album is mopey. Several tracks deviate from this mode and are, if I do say so, downright danceable. “Islands on the Coast” would be, for another album, an excellent opening track, the lilting guitar and sweet break in the chorus rousing one to the kind of happy smiles, shoulders shaking dancing you do with your girlfriends around your living room when you just aren’t giving any fucks. “The General Specific,” coming right on the heels of all the eyes-closed swaying earlier, evokes the bluesy kind of porch music that’s pure Southern summer nights, dogs running around chasing kids, guitars pulled out with one hand, whiskey with the other. There’s a goddamn handclap in it, for Christ’s sake.
Sandwiched in between those two is 50 seconds of the most indulgently played music that is “Lamb on the Lam (In the City),” a reminder of the sweetness that underlines this album. It’s almost unfair, really, to be teased with this scrap of pure beauty that echoes back those shimmery memories, but I guess that’s what this album is about – remembrances that creep through the dialogue of one’s mind.
It’s good, though, that we never get to really wallow in this album. This is no Iron and Wine, no Bon Iver; we are invited to feel, yes, but never to fall alone down the well. The last few tracks of the album invite us back into the reminisces of faded loves, especially “Window Blues,” but never cloud with sappy or sentimental devices. You can call me naïve, but as I write this late into Thursday night with only the blinking lights of my Christmas tree coloring the whiskey in my glass amber, then green, then blue, I believe in the honesty of this album.
However you take this album, whether you listen and gravitate toward those unhurried rock’n’roll drum beats, or the fullness of sound this band can produce, or the early morning half-sleeping daze like I do, put it on in the background of your evening and let yourself be pulled in. This is not an album for the early morning; no, this is an album for driving alone at midnight, for laughing with friends before falling into comfortable silence, for looking at the stars in your backyard and thinking about that one whose hand wouldn’t welcome your touch anymore…for turning off all the lights in your house except your Christmas tree and swaying your hips without the burden of caring.
Sometimes you have to Feel the Feels, babes, and sometimes you need to go sit alone inside the 35 minutes an album gives you and let your cup run over.