The Jakarta Post
‘V’ by The Horrors (The Horrors/File)
You’ve got to hand it to The Horrors. At the height of the British “indie” boom in the mid-2000s, and after the release of their massively hyped garage rock 2007 debut Strange House, the band made a strong left turn with their sophomore record.
Primary Colours, released in 2009, was anything but the kind of follow up that era’s indie band (especially one as swiftly popular as The Horrors was) was expected to release. Mixing dream pop, shoegaze and elements of kraut rock, the record had no intent of rockin’ nor rollin’ — instead it hazed and floated with a deeper sense of adventure, practically tossing aside any elements that might have sustained their hype at that point.
The change benefitted The Horrors in the long run. True, the band almost immediately became second (or third, if we’re going by the NME-hype scale chart) tier indie, but they now have existed far past those acts; the ones that did nothing but regurgitate the same guitar and scraggly denim ruckus to infinity.
The Horrors move made certain that they would never be as big as The Killers or U2, or even The Strokes, but they lasted longer than bands whose sound was forever-ingrained with the time when it was hot for a split-second.
V (Wolf Tone/Caroline International), their fifth album, isn’t much as a leap as Colors was to House. It’s less adventurous and more intent on crafting efficient, shorter tracks.
The most compact-sounding thing they’ve released since that second record, V, still has elements that permeated 2011’s “Skying” and 2014’s “Luminous”; that kind of moody haziness that sounds like Human League mating with Simple Minds.
This time, however, that Gary Numan-esque 1980s futurism plays a central role within the album’s sonic landscape. That, and a percussive and sound-effects aggressiveness that pay deep debts to industrial music.
What really brings these songs together though, is the most confident melodies they’ve had in their arsenal. As strong as they’ve been, The Horrors’ biggest plight is how their texture painting has often been more interesting than the basic songwriting itself.
Perhaps it’s the involvement of producer Paul Epsworth — whose past more rock-ist CV has expanded itself more recently with works of big pop names such as Adele — but this time the experimentalists tendencies of the band’s instrumental arm (synth player Tom Cowan synthesizer, guitarist Joshua Hayward, drummer Joe Spurgeon, bass player Rhys Webb — all of whom are multi-instrumentalists) find themselves balanced with singer Faris Badwan’s most-commanding melodies to date.
Sure, there are still psych-out moments here, where vintage synthesizer bleeps clash against effected guitars, but the central role is taken by Badwan’s voice.
For a band that is essentially “rock,” this is a very welcome shift. None of the tracks feel meandering, like an excuse to simply project some cool sound even as the shoegaze guitars still flow through the song’s mist. No more is this shown with “Something To Remember Me By,” a Giorgio Moroder-styled disco rocker that is undoubtedly the most satisfyingly pop song the band’s written yet.
Instantaneous verse and choruses blend beautifully with electronica rhythms as Badwan intones tales of acceptance and letting go. His lyrics remain as vague as ever, but here it accentuates more relatable emotions even if it never specifies any particular scenario.
Nothing on the album is as catchy as “Something,” but they come equally fully shaped in their own ways. Opener “Hologram” is driven by a basic, industrial-toned beat with laser-like synthesizers’ swizzling in and out. Dreamy ambient vocals share the scene with Badwan, while Webb and Spurgeon provides a solid backbone.
“Press Enter to Exit” is somewhat similar, with a more upbeat flourish and more-digestible refrain. Nuanced synth ambience provide a cool backdrop alongside what-sounds-like classic organ.
“Ghost” is a moody entry, with a good dose of processed sounds — drum machines, swelling synths and samples — to paint the mood. Badwan sings of “People falling around/ down/down” amid this dourness, with an immediate, quasi-goth melody hovering through everything. Bluesy guitar wails even make an appearance.
The punchy “World Below” is another stand out. Processed guitars, 1980s-chorus effected vocals, and simple, jumpy vocals convey a sense of largeness that hasn’t been part of the band’s music prior.
In fact, it’s that sense of openness permeates through these songs, fitting them well. Whether this means the band feels more festival-ready than before is up in the air; but V finds them sounding less pensive about their music in a while. “Machine” moves with a fluid pace that’s almost funky in its Industrial-disco vibe.
V finds The Horrors settling into a new sound that, while not as much a left turn as their first to second record, puts them back into a possible realm of rising amongst the indie realms again. Then again, all the elements — the abstract lyricism, the penchant for challenging sounds — might mean that they still won’t be headliners anytime soon. For my money, even with a newfound sense of openness, that’s not what the band wants anyway.