Grammy-nominated Band of Horses first broke out in 2006 with their debut LP Everything All the Time. With earthy undertones and frontman Ben Bridwell’s reverb-soaked vocals ruminating on death and despair, the collection sounded like what the men of My Morning Jacket might play following a funeral. Also like Jim James’ outfit, Band of Horses has long been a group without a proper musical home: Bridwell is a Southern rocker who doesn’t produce Southern rock or have ties to the glossy sonic streets of Music City. (That he lacks any of his home state South Carolina’s twang only renders their sound more genre-less.)
Over the next three albums — and a few different lineups — Band of Horses used this nomadic approach to their advantage. Everything’s follow up and the first album recorded after Bridwell moved back home to South Carolina from Seattle, Cease to Begin (2007), delved further into jangly roots-rock, and on Infinite Arms (2010) they explored more lush arrangements while taking a step toward soft rock. In 2012, they teamed up with super producer Glyn Johns (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin) who helped dial up the volume and roughen songs’ edges for the raucous Mirage Rock.
But for Why Are You Ok, their fifth studio album, Bridwell doesn’t so much as build off his earlier work as treat the group’s catalog like a grab bag. There’s the psych-rock dreamscape “Hag” and the ambient, electro intermission “Hold On Gimme a Sec,” both of which call to mind early Band of Horses, while the seven-minute, orchestral folk-rock opener “Dull Times/The Moon” is more lavish than anything they’ve released; “Country Teen” belongs to ‘70s AM radio while “Throw My Mess” is a proper Texas dancehall stomper.
And while that might sound like the recipe for a bad case of musical whiplash, the sonic pivots make Ok a compelling listen. Bridwell’s exploration never feels chaotic. Instead, it’s what keeps the record’s momentum going.