When The Horrors first made their debut into the music scene with Strange House in 2007; they were given almost hipster-ish labels like gothic rock and horror punk. Back then, hipsters were in fact underground and indie wasn’t as popular as it is today. Indie was still a severely underground genre back then and people had to find more ways to describe bands than just calling them indie. Thus, eccentric labels like horror punk were invented. How else would you describe a band that sounded like The Smiths had all of a sudden taken a host of anti-depressants and discovered that there are more than three chords on a guitar? (Side bar: I am a huge fan of The Smiths.) Obscure labels like horror punk suited The Horrors as they were a band that dwelled in the realms of obscurity. Despite this, their music had an erratic kind of charm to them and now, three albums later, the band is set to release their fourth album.
Luminous was a 15-month recording process. It is understandable as to why the album took so long to record. The Horrors have managed to completely change their sound since the release of their previous album Skying. Gone is the erratic blend of post-punk and shoegaze. They no longer sound like a bipolar version of The Smiths and have recreated themselves as a modern version of Joy Division. The erratic bursts of guitar have been replaced by towering pyramids of synth and more controlled guitar riffs underlain by dreamy shoegaze fuzz.
“Chasing the Shadows” introduces the album with a three-minute long synth intro that builds up into dream-pop styled guitar riffs tinged by sparkling synth lines. Faris Badwan’s vocals have progressed from a sneering take on Morrissey to a crooning and dreamy version of Ian Curtis (vocalist for Joy Division). The entire song sets a standard of towering and sparkling synth lines and soaring guitar riffs backing up Badwan’s dreamy vocals.
Despite this change in sound, The Horrors still manage to maintain that original charm that made them so unique. “First Day of Spring” captures that charm in an erratic burst of guitar that introduces the song. I find it intriguing that the song’s title incorporates the word “Spring”. Spring is often coupled with the concept of change and rebirth, and this could possibly reflect the band’s change in sound. This change is reflected in the song itself as it progresses from an erratic punk-styled song to a more controlled shoegaze song punctuated by the occasional burst of guitar.
“So Now You Know” is a delicate dream-pop styled song. It is one of those songs that allows you to fade into an almost trance-like state as the waves of synth wash over you. There are layers of synth within this song and behind all of this synth one can hear the distant wail of a tortured guitar riff. Badwan croons in heartbroken lyrics like “Beyond the fear of letting go / Out there on the shore tonight / there is a life you’ve put aside for far too long.”
“In and Out of Sight” is a soaring shoegaze song that one can easily get lost in. Towering synth lines ooze from every aspect of the song while Badwin’s vocal crawl lethargically behind these synth lines. “Jealous Sun” sees a return to the old, erratic sound of Skying. Except, gone are the guitar riffs and instead there is an erratic synth line backed up by a steady guitar riff. “Falling Star” opts for a more erratic guitar riffs underlain by a soaring synth line. Badwin’s vocals continue to take on a dreamy quality as he utters lyrics like “Every stranger in a strange parade of love”. The song takes on an almost The Velvet Undergroud quality.
The rest of the album maintains a pyramid of synth and wailing guitar riffs. Luminous shows The Horrors taking a much more mature approach to their music. The erratic and hyper child within them has calmed down and now they are producing music that breaks out of the realm of obscurity. Personally, I find this album to be the most relatable as I did not have to filter out the oddly charming yet jarring guitar riffs that were present on previous releases. In a genre that feeds off annoying obscurity – see Arcade Fire’s recent fiasco Reflektor – they have produced an album that is in fact not obscure. The lofty shoegaze synth lines coupled with the twinkling dream-pop styled synth lines create a delicate yet towering wall of synth. This is well-coupled with wailing guitar riffs and throbbing bass riffs. Badwan’s change in vocal style makes for easier listening as he manages to couple all the best qualities of Morrissey, Curtis and Lou Reed. With that in mind, he also makes the style his own by adding his own crooning and sneering quality to it. With the release of Luminous, The Horrors may be paving their way to glory.