The Horrors – Skying (XL Recordings)
July 11, 2011 by Joseph Stevens
The Horrors are everywhere: in every magazine, on every website, on every billboard, behind every closed door seemingly. I can understand why, their transformation over the last 6 years has been the stuff of every critic’s dreams. It’s been a linear, albeit obscure, progression from flash-in-the-pan rock and horror anomalies to overlords of the UK’s alternative music culture, with fingers in every psychedelic pie in London. Try and count the amount of The Horrors’ side-projects, or the number of bands that strive to be and sound like them, and you’ll have a busy (somewhat tedious) day. If you want another time-filler, try to count the bands that The Horrors have been compared to, or try to list the whacky verbs that have been repeatedly deployed by various writers about each album. Strange House was a “gothic”, “eerie”, “organ driven” garage record, but ultimately a matter of “style over substance”. Primary Colours was the “difficult second album par excellence”, “psychedelia for the twenty-first century”, “My Bloody Valentine-esque” affair that was hailed as the decades turning point by the NME (and maybe it was). And now it’s the turn of ‘Skying’, with its “baggy” (?) sounds, “blissed-out” highs and “Simple Minds” style “synthscapes”.
All this blog jargon wearies me, I feel like Winston Smith struggling with Doublethink. Maybe I’m old before my time, but I’m increasingly put off by this faddist language. Skying is a case in point. A beautiful album crafted in a self-built studio, it is completely The Horrors’ own: the result of numerous and prolonged musical experiments that have found the band’s members trying their hands at various forms of musical expression, from the Blues to electronica. As such, it will catch you off guard, simply because of the depth of knowledge and experience that has fed into it. You’ll hear various echoes from across modern music’s dizzying spectrum and you’ll hear sounds that you might not understand (at least I don’t). You’ll hear The Horrors referencing their past endeavours, in the crunching garage-rock guitar of Endless Blue, or the driving psychedelia of Monica Gems, but most of all you’ll hearing something totally unprecedented: The Horrors sounding, perhaps for the first time, like a twenty-first century band.
Sure, the record is abundant in familiar sounds, but it’s the result of an evolutionary process that has found the band siphoning a plethora of sounds into an entirely unique 54 minutes. The reference game that’s being played with Skying (have a trawl through the reviews, there have been some WILD comparisons) is only serving to obscure the fact behind the gloss of name-drops there is that lesser-spotted beast: the almost-perfect album (nothing’s perfect, afterall). Each track builds on its predecessor in weirdness and that’s saying something: things start of pretty weird with Changing the Rain, as that foreboding tribal drum beat launches into a phasing synth.
I’m not going to give you a proper analysis of the record. These are too prolific on the web; you can find a track by track guide on almost any popular music blog. Instead, consider this a cautionary note. You can’t define The Horrors by their influences, as so many critics are intent on doing; they’re probably one of the most complete and accomplished bands around today. Don’t get carried away with playing detective with the bands influences, just enjoy the record for what it is: true brilliance.