Father, husband, human - three things that come to mind when one spins rock collective Band of Horses' fifth album. For all its panoramic sonics, the songs were written in quiet moments at home in a garage in Charleston, South Carolina, as 38-year-old frontman Ben Bridwell settles into middle age, taking care of his four young daughters.
Why Are You OK, the curious album title, is a mistyped message by his daughter on his wife's cellphone and you would normally dismiss it if not the fact that it poses an intriguing existential question.
Bridwell explores it in the self- explanatory track, Dull Times/The Moon, a contrarian seven-minute epic which travels the infinite galaxy with spacey synths and electric riffs, tagged with a sample of American auteur Robert Altman talking about the evanescent nature of fame in Hollywood. "And then I am a failure and a has-been and then I cross back again," Altman says and, soon, the track erupts in an avalanche of guitars, cymbals and drums.
It underscores the commitment of Bridwell and his cohort to follow their own muse, come what may. To that end, Bridwell asked mutual admirer Jason Lytle of alt-country rockers Grandaddy to steer the production of this intimate excursion.
Lytle coaxes the dreamy traveller out of Bridwell, even as the latter basks in domesticity. Some songs dig deep and get into rock rhapsody.
Bring out the lighters when Solemn Oath comes on, lit by fervent percussion and quicksilver guitar. Throw My Mess is Texan bonhomie with a boot-thumping beat and Casual Party is a power doozie about an awkward party encumbered by silly talk about television and hobbies.
WHY ARE YOU OK
Band of Horses
Bridwell knows when to laugh at himself, even as he rocks out. When he calms down, it seems you could see all the stars in the night sky, just like how it looks on the cover of the band's Grammy-nominated album, Infinite Arms (2010). Country Teen ventures into FM-radio soft rock with perfect vocal harmonies, while Lying Under Oak is a beauteous, synth-laced, alt-country ballad.
If there is a song that captures the strange purgatorial state of mind between youthful wanderlust and adult responsibility, it is the gorgeous centrepiece, Hag.
Bridwell's voice, a marriage of a tremulous Neil Young and a lovelorn Robin Pecknold of indie folk band Fleet Foxes, is upfront. Over soaring strings, sci-fi synths and guitar flicks, it asks beseechingly: "Are we in love? Completely in love?" The questions hang in the air, like a satellite that orbits around everyone - fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, lovers, all.