For a band that was more famous for the way they dressed than for their music, The Horrors have been…
For a band that was more famous for the way they dressed than for their music, The Horrors have been a fairy-tale story of an act that has undergone the type of metamorphosis of which young bands can only dream. From the moment the 9-minute ‘Sea Within a Sea’ appeared online, two years after their debut album Strange House, it was clear that the five stokepipe crusaders were well on their way to becoming serious contenders in the music world that initially took them for granted. Their fourth album, Luminous, is a carefully refined version of a sound that the band has been developing since Primary Colours. The product sees the band flouting a mastery of their own inimitable sound.
The Mercury-Prize-nominated Primary Colours saw the band retain much of the primitive feel of Strange House. ‘Who Can Say’, for instance, is the prime example of developments in their sound – an introduction of krautrock indebted motorik drumming (see ‘Can‘ and ‘Neu!‘) and a vocal style which saw Faris Badwan embrace a more honest and open delivery (much in line with the songwriting too) while retaining the gothic synths and frantic guitars of their debut. Third album Skying was indicative of further developments, less raucous and more melodic where tracks like ‘Moving Further Away’ traced the MDMA-induced euphoria that had saturated the bands’ sound at the cost of their signature gothic organs.
Luminous therefore appears to be the next logical step in the bands’ progression. In conversation with Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, bassist Rhys Webb set out that, with the new album, “it’s not so much about heavier guitars as a heavier potency… We want to make music you can dance to, music that elevates…” and damn, Luminous will soundtrack cocktails sipped at the penthouse. Right from the outset, album opener ‘Chasing Shadows’ starts off with a busy furl of glitter-like synth patterns and – as the Djembe percussion adds to the glossy aural landscape – the proverbial drop places the listener in a kaleidoscope of refracted synth and guitar feedback. Faris’ voice, clean and unobscured, is at the forefront with a decidedly optimistic feel.
Further evidence of this is in the first single ‘I See You’. Faris’ intones about potential futures, basking in the sun and embracing both the present and what might still be to come. This unashamed exuberance stands in stark contrast to the dark days circa Strange House and nihilist undertones of Primary Colours. What’s more is that The Horrors had the balls to release such an extensive track as a first single without even batting an eye. This is what makes Luminous such a standout. While managing to incorporate post-rock, post-punk, psych and krautrock tropes, the band has simultaneously picked up a more buoyant sound that could stand as a present day example of Britpop reimagined. They have discarded any conception of being a mere sum of their many influences.
It’s not all Skittle-tinted refractions though; ‘Jealous Sun’, a favourite off the album, sees the band remind you that while they are embracing a new identity, they certainly haven’t forgotten where they came from. The track is has a treacly consistency, and edges onwards at a ferociously ominous pace à la My Bloody Valentine. In particular, Josh Hayward (AKA Joshua Von Grimm AKA Joshua Third and formerly known as the dude with the craziest hairstyle in the band) – who is renowned for idiosyncratic guitar playing as well as his obsession with refashioning pedals and synthesisers – has this track in the palm of his hand. Further, the University College of London Physics graduate is a consistent presence on the album; the remarkable scythe-like quality of his guitar playing leaves no cloud of feedback too dense for him to pierce.
Likewise, ‘Change Your Mind’ is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The band illustrates their maturity both lyrically and musically through the reassured nature of every aspect of the track. The use of synth in its climax almost serves as a self-referential nod to the older material, coupled lyrics that are open and direct. In the same Radio 1 interview Faris noted that, in terms of songwriting, this album was the one with which he was happiest.
The lowest point on the album might be the second single, ‘So Now You Know’. Its saccharine quality – perhaps, on first listen – may be too much for a fan of their older material. Some will feel it leans too much toward the likes of M83’s ‘Midnight City’ for a Horrors track. But eventually, submitting to its unique earworm quality is near unavoidable.
Luminous is an album that is evidence of a band that understands their influences and have built their own distinctive sound on the shoulders of the pioneers they so adore. Luminous is sure to stand the test of time and serve to soundtrack many a memorable moment. The only question that remains is: where to from here? With this newfound joie de vivre one hopes they will find new territory to explore. But knowing The Horrors, doubt, if anything, is sorely misplaced.