Three years after their previous studio effort, The Horrors return with a new album, once more trying to live up to impossible expectations. While 2009’s excellent Primary Colours propelled them to the top of year-end lists, their third LP Skying managed to surpass that hype with some of their best recorded material, ushering in even more critical acclaim and expectations. Now, with the release of Luminous, they change gears again, and deliver once more.
Even though Skying took the band’s sound to new heights, creating tension with epic instrumental interludes, crashing guitars, horn sections and whatnot, it often found itself floating among clouds of boredom. Opener Chasing Shadows makes immediately clear all that’s different between Luminous and Skying, and most of that can be attributed to the rhythm section. The bouncing, sometimes danceable bass lines, more prominent than on previous Horrors records, rarely get a chance to catch a breath, and play a crucial role in carrying almost every single track. Elsewhere, layers upon layers of sound continue to be nicely piled on top of each other, more guitars and synths than one can count on a first listen; Faris Badwan’s voice, still unmistakably his own, actually sounds a bit more excited this time; but it all pales in comparison to just how compelling the bass is.
While the My Bloody Valentine-influenced technique called “glide guitar” still makes makes a few brief appearances (such as the mean riff to Jealous Sun), it’s a resource they’re letting go of, thankfully. The long-term appropriation of the MBV guitar would’ve become a gimmick by now, had it been used more extensively. In its place, the band now put an even bigger focus on synthesizers, sometimes hiding the six-string instrument altogether. It’s also worth noting that the the ever-so-colorful synths seem to draw from different sources and eras for inspiration, and go along with the vocal melodies, as opposed to providing a break from them. And did we mentioned the bass lines? The bass lines on So Now You Know and In and Out of Sight make them the best sad disco songs you’ll hear in a long while:
Luminous does lose a bit of steam on its second half. Falling Star is rather forgettable, and exposes the record’s only true flaw: the songs here don’t have identities as powerful or unique as the ones on previous LPs, and they all start to sound alike after a while. Change Your Mind stands as something of an exception, slower than the rest of the bunch, where Faris Badwan does such a great Morrissey impression that it might irk people who aren’t fond of The Smiths – but the chorus shakes that comparison off a bit. Although it is hard to pinpoint particular standout tracks, it’s inherently clear that, as a whole, the record works well, and its fifty-one minutes go by smoothly.
The Horrors manage to sound massive from start to finish, as well. Sometimes, it’s on a mellower cut like Mine and Yours, where they don’t go over the five-minute mark, and successfully avoid crossing over into boredom. And when they do indulge themselves, writing the seven-minute-long I See You, the song has no shortage of epic, intertwining waves and layers of sound, more than enough to keep things interesting throughout. The overflowing of guitars and synth (and bass) also shows that the band is a lot more loose this time around, showing little restraint in how much they can fit into one song, even coming across as less refined, on occasion. However, unlike some of Skying, the length of the tracks here goes hand in hand with the songwriting, and nothing feels longer than it should.
In the end, as the bright and cheery Sleepwalk closes the record, Luminous marks a new step forward for The Horrors, a welcome change of pace. Though it takes longer to find out which tracks stand (marginally) above the others, it’s a rewarding full listen on the first go around, and continues to be so afterwards. It sounds as different from their previous record as that was from the one before, and so on, but now they’ve managed to change and maintain quality, with an effort almost as solid as Primary Colours. We’re already curious to see where they can go next.
Stream the album in full below:
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.