There’s something bold about the ambiguity and straightforwardness in the title of the new album by The Horrors – and despite how, quite fascinatingly, the meaning of the sign varies universally, since the band is from England we’re going to go along with the assumption that it’s meant as a biting, unapologetic statement. This is a refreshing move for the indie rock group, whose previous album ‘Luminous’ felt at times lost in a formless sea of hazy synths and electronics. But their return is much more well-defined, coherent, and solid all-around – having experimented with new sounds in the past, The Horrors seem confident about combining some of the best aspects of their previous efforts on ‘V’ – there are hints of everything from their garage punk roots to their recent foray into shoegaze.
You really cannot deny the invigorating heaviness that drives tracks like ‘Machine’. Though Faris Badwan’s vocals have never been the band’s strongest asset, his singing style here displays an admirable effort to sound more distinctive, and there is indeed an echo of David Bowie’s voice in the chorus. The production keeps those distorted guitars and rigid bass lines ever-present, providing a substantial backdrop for most of the tracks, but on the surface this is an album full of dreamy, groovy vibes, especially evident on tracks like ‘World Below’, ‘Press Enter to Exit’, and ‘Hologram’ (the latter of which has a bass line that sounds bit too similar to the Editors’ ‘Sugar’, itself a rip-off of Björk’s ‘Army of Me’). This somewhat poppier direction is something that pays off, as it offers a lot of memorable hooks that really do stick with you. But those more garage-inspired elements do pop up in the forefront here and there, a lot of times in the form of an electrifying guitar solo from the talented Joshua Hayward, who also creates a lot of the soundscapes behind The Horrors‘ music. One of the most exciting surprises is on the track ‘Ghost’ – when you expect just another guitar solo as the song reaches its climax, what you get instead is a burst of shimmering electronics, like a star bursting, before the loud guitars take their place.
The slower tracks also benefit from tight songwriting that really holds the songs together and provides balance. ‘Point of No Reply’ is a somber evocation of the helplessness and darkness of the moment in a fight where you feel like you have “nowhere left to go” and nothing I can say”, a subject that takes a more hopeful shape on the closer, ‘Something to Remember Me By’, an unexpectedly disco-influenced pop rock track with a twist – comparing The Horrors and Snow Patrol is something you never would think would be fitting, but it works well here – and by the end we do indeed remember the track. Even ‘Gathering’, the more standard of these quieter moments, feels intentional and necessary, and there’s a genuine sense of weariness in the vocals as it builds into a hypnotic chorus.
It’s also promising and noteworthy that we see the band going for a more lyrically and thematically consistent album, rather than just musically. While the writing isn’t necessarily always detailed, these motifs give the appearance of a more homogeneous whole, which we can assume is deliberate just by looking at that album cover. There’s at times an atmosphere of technological dystopia, as Faris Badwan vaguely aks if we’re just hologram – the postmodern question of whether the imitation of life has become indistinguishable from reality – while on ‘Press Enter to Exit’ he sings that he’s “stuck in an echo of life” and later on the album declares that “you will never be more than a machine.” The band uses these references pretty ambiguously, but they can be seen as a kind of commentary that is aptly both personal and political. In any case, the album is, on the whole, a sign of The Horrors‘ continuous evolution, and it does not disappoint.