The Seattle indie rock group Band of Horses’ fifth studio album Why Are You OK arrives after a four-year hiatus. The record largely combines two very intuitive for this band but vastly different sounds: the ambient nostalgia conveyed through wistful vocals and guitar licks on one hand and on the other the cheery country-rock vibes.

‘Why Are You OK’ by Band of Horses Album Review

The bold 7-minute opener “Dull Times/The Moon” starts off with an ethereal and vulnerable atmosphere, reminding us of the core of the band’s unique style. “Home is where you are,” the band’s lead singer Ben Bridwell sings assertively, establishing a firm ground vocally and thematically. “Dull Times/The Moon” evolves gradually from an open and spacey guitar-led electronica that drifts slowly into an erupting rocker of large scale. The track is perhaps a testament to the band’s ambitious goal of maintaining a balance between dreamy wistfulness and vulnerability on one side and an uplifting solemnity on the other. However, while this works flawlessly on one extremely confident opening track, there remains the question of how successful this formula is for the scope of the whole record.

Tracks like “Solemn Oath” and later “Country Teen” transition into an unexpectedly folksy radio-friendy mode – an arguably confident (mis)step away from the group’s core identity. Those aren’t necessarily bad songs, but they are nothing special either. “Throw My Mess” is perhaps the most intriguing one of this kind – a catchy folk tune with a stomping beat and heartwarming lyrics. The guitars are still prevalent, giving a rougher clattering edge to an otherwise unimpressive tune. The following “Whatever, Wherever” – one of the few notable standouts on the whole record – balances things out with an underlined dreaminess, protracted electronic guitars, soft drumbeat and mellow Beck-like vocals.

Why Are You OK is a delightful return by one of the most authoritative yet low-key guitar bands out there. It is a record different from their former creative output, glancing perhaps at the work of other indie groups like Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers. Experimentation with style, however, doesn’t pay off in all cases. Band of Horses may have a more refreshing sound now, but it comes at the cost of the emotional core that made them a household name in wistful, distorted and original atmospheric sound.

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