In March of 2006, little-known Seattleites Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke rechristened themselves Band of Horses and quietly put out a record called Everything All the Time, which not-so-quietly became a sensation, a collection of summery indie-rock jams bursting with winsome melodies and Bridwell’s garishly re-verbed vocals. Coming in at 36 sublimely sequenced minutes, it was a note-perfect slab of meandering noise pop that took everyone, including the band, by surprise. Brooke departed shortly after its release; in interviews, Bridwell, an affable, ridiculously tattooed marijuana enthusiast, told a modest tale of beginner’s luck, of this being the first batch of songs he’d ever written, his effulgent, striking vocals merely the result of his piling on the reverb because he was insecure about his voice. This beast of an LP, in other words, was something of a happy accident.
Cease to Begin is another accident, but not so much a happy one. Bridwell is still frighteningly talented when it comes to mining melodies, but there’s a real dearth here when compared to Everything. With 10 tracks adding up to a mere 34 minutes, this follow-up is much more wan and insubstantial than its predecessor, suggesting that Everything‘s success indeed owes more to dumb luck than any of us want to admit.
Not that this is a total dud. “No One’s Gonna Love You” features crystalline guitar lines, Bridwell’s vaguely amorous lyrics, and a swirling, euphoric chorus that arrives like a group hug. And “Ode to Irc,” which finds Bridwell declaring, “The world is such a wonderful place” (stoner!) and letting loose a robust “la-dee-dah” or two over a swelling waltz, echoes the innocent brilliance found throughout that great debut. But there are too many missteps: “Marry Song” finds our frontman affecting a slightly Southern accent for a loping waltz that goes exactly nowhere, like a rowboat ebbing and flowing against a lakeshore; “Island on the Coast” is similarly monotonous, its bursting guitars and galloping beat flitting aimlessly. What became of those gorgeous arrangements, those brash crescendos? And what the hell is a 50-second instrumental track doing on an already anemic set list? Who knows. Apparently, this time around, the stars just didn’t line up.