Has a band ever reinvented itself as suddenly and drastically as The Horrors? The group went from forgettable to excellent in the span of one album – 2009’s Primary Colours – a record so strong that the anticipation for a follow-up began almost immediately. The question, of course, was whether the band would continue its chameleon-like transformation or stay in the sonic territory that earned them so much widespread acclaim. As it turns out, Skying is the work of a band doing a little bit of both – retaining most of what made Primary Colours so great, while evolving the sound in unexpected and thrilling new directions.
While Primary Colours took its cues from the effects and feedback-ridden world of My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Skying finds the band in a decidedly lighter territory. Standouts “You Said” and “Still Life,” for instance, are among the catchiest songs the band has ever put out – crafted with a sunny synth-pop mentality fitting of the album’s summer release date. Throughout the entire record, in fact, there is an emphasis on the melodies underneath the band’s signature soundscapes that wasn’t held with the same importance on Primary Colours. Even singer Faris Badwan gives his vocals a makeover, ditching the harsh baritone that kept him hidden away in favor of soaring over the entirety of the album’s ten tracks.
This results in an work that’s perhaps easier to digest than its predecessor, but that should not be interpreted as a negative. The Horrors have established themselves as an album band – a quality that tends to separate the good artists from the great ones. Skying’s deeper focus toward pop melodies and hooks may have undermined that ideal in lesser hands, but, thankfully, that is not the case here. In fact, despite the streamlining, everything that made Primary Colours work so well (the layering of sounds, the well-chosen musical influences, the cohesiveness of the record) is still present, just in a different capacity. And that’s arguably the most impressive trick of Skying – it manages to replicate the qualities of its predecessor while sounding almost nothing like it.
But there is one edge The Horrors’ previous outing has over Skying – its variation. While both records feature clearly defined sonic identities, Primary Colours was undoubtedly more successful in presenting different interpretations of its identity from song to song. Again, this may be due to Skying’s lean towards traditional song structure, but whatever the case, fewer songs stand out on their own here than they did on Colours.
That issue aside, there’s no denying the strength of this release, and the surprising success of the band’s transformation in general. While Skying is not as large a leap forward as Strange House to Primary Colours was, it’s still the work of a band firing on all cylinders, and an exceptional offering from a group that, out of nowhere, is quickly becoming one of the most exciting young acts around.