Available on: XL LP
Does anyone remember The Horrors circa 2006? Prancing on stage in thick eyeliner and Beetlejuice haircuts armed with an extensive knowledge of psychobilly and a cover of The Sonics’ ‘The Witch’, they acted like the audience were the only ones not in on the joke. Only after being signed by XL and releasing the Mercury-nominated Primary Colours in 2009 did anyone outside the NME bubble begin to pay attention. Well, clearly the joke’s on us: with their third album, Skying, the Southend-On-Sea band have completed the transformation from goth pastiche to one of the country’s best guitar groups.
Skying isn’t so much a departure from Primary Colours as the logical next step. A more abrasive record, you can still hear the group’s past influences, namely the post-punk of Strange House on ‘Endless Blue’ and the krautrock and shoegaze of Primary Colours on ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Oceans Burning’ respectively.
They also draw on new ones: opener ‘Changing The Run’ and ‘Dive In’ have a baggy swagger that makes sense of their support slot for Primal Scream’s Screamadelica show back in June. The confidence and efficiency that they apply to straddling genres is never more apparent than on ‘Endless Blue’, which opens as an introspective instrumental of plodding bass and reverb-drenched guitar before switching tempo into breakneck grunge, like an early ’90s Sub-Pop 7″ played at 45 instead of 33.
Single ‘Still Life’ is almost too anachronistic for its own good, channelling the spirit of Once Upon A Time-era Simple Minds so effectively that it’s surprising they haven’t breached some sort of copyright. However in a culture that sees cliques of bedroom producers trying to re-construct tiny corners of the ’80s musical landscape, it seems unfair to denounce a bigger band for attempting the same.
Self-produced in their home-built Dalston studio – a daring feat when you consider that their previous album was overseen by Portishead’s Geoff Barrows – Skying is the product of a band in complete control of their own sound. This is felt most keenly in the new prominence given to Tow Cowan’s synthesizers. Whether opening the album with oscillating drones, shimmering in kaleidoscopic bursts of light on ‘I Can See Through You’ or clanging like wedding bells on ‘You Said’, they provide a necessary sense of continuity on an album of diverse influences. Ambitious without being arrogant, it’s not yet clear whether Skying represents a natural evolution for The Horrors or part of a carefully orchestrated musical master plan – we’ll have to wait for their next release to find out for sure.