The fifth Band of Horses record opens up in a confused drifting bubble: “filthy room, guitars out of tune,” Ben Bridwell sings on “Dull Times,” against a languidly spacey backing that suggests a pacific Pink Floyd. But rather than the sound of falling apart, it’s an evocation of finding your footing (“Home is where you are,” he confides), as the song segues into “The Moon,” a confident rocker where his voice tilts skyward and gravelly anthemic guitars follow the lead. For Band of Horses, balancing impulses – between anxiety and joy, Seventies beard-rock and Nineties sweet-noise bliss – has always been a subtle strength. They’re cut from the same porch-as-arena cloth as, say, My Morning Jacket, but they’ve never let too much ambition or angst or spiritual seeking get in the way of an unassuming nice time. On Why Are You Ok one of the standouts is the loose headlong rocker “Casual Party”: Birdwell sings about being bored and angry listening to dumb midlife babble at a party but not so bored and angry he’s gonna be a dick about it. On the dolefully punchy “In A Drawer,” an old photo gets him thinking about his childhood and life choices and what it all means, then rock itself (in the form of a cameo from Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis) makes it all feel like not such a big deal.
The mood throughout is amiably diverse. Every Band of Horses record feels like mixing your dad’s records with your records. Here there’s the summer-hammock acoustic reverie, “Whatever, Wherever,” a gorgeous slice of Beach Boys-steeped doo-wop dream-folk, the garage-Eagles prettiness of “Country Teen,” which begins “the night is wasted / Sorry you passed out on the lawn,” and the delicate, coolly symphonic “Hag,” which would seem to salute the late country legend and turns out to suggest a vision of tough living and stock taking that’s a little more personal. These guys always find a way to make the mythic feel down to earth.