The Horrors continue to evolve toward a more structured electro-rock outfit.
The Horrors’ 2006 debut single, “Sheena Is a Parasite,” was a high-velocity sleeper hit with a delicious ‘60s garage-rock goriness to it. Fast-forward to 2009’s Primary Colours and the English band’s earlier wildness had given way to a more psychedelic, shoegazey treatment. The group’s fourth album, 2014’s Luminous, while received positively overall, was met with some lackluster reviews and claims the band was stalled. Their fifth album, V, sees the band continuing to evolve toward a more structured electro-rock outfit, but without losing any of the heart that got them there.
As with their previous records, little pieces of the Horrors sound like a re-imagination of garage and goth rock that came before—late-stage Cure circa Wish, the post-punk glossiness of U2’s The Unforgettable Fire or the buzz of Zooropa—that kind of swept-up, shimmery ‘80s romantic shoegaze that can be so easily accessible. Handpicking influences from well-established acts is just fine; reminding listeners of someone else can have setbacks.
But what the Horrors have done with this fifth album is to mix those relatable elements with not-so-radio-friendly blasts of rebellion. When it seems they’ve mellowed out, as on the swirling acoustic ballad “Gathering,” their tendencies to create danceable rock then pick back up with “World Below.” The single “Machine” has an industrial-noise powerhouse riff reminiscent of mid-‘90s Nine Inch Nails, but instead of Trent Reznor’s angry bite, Faris Badwan’s moody yet melodic vocals deliver softer emotion.
While this is a strong record with plenty of chaotic bursts of turbulent frenzy, there is no denying that a cushiony side to their music has crept in. Despite that, the songs in which they slowly burn are where the Horrors sounds strongest. The sonic distortion the band uses over Badwan’s droll undertones in the simmering “Ghost” can be a dark and incredibly hypnotic formula. Adding a sunset burst of synth loops and hazy guitar over that steady beat kicks the song up a notch, making it more anthemic. The dream pop shoegaze of “It’s a Good Life” paints a colorful landscape, with a subtle start and an absolute gem of a synth line, and the lyric “It’s a good life/ Until it’s gone” carries that infectious British charm/cynicism.
That’s not to say that every track completely lands. Some melodies and song structures on V can end up seeming rote. In between, though, are moments of surprise. Over “Point of No Reply,” and its comfy, cushioned beat, a layer of bass-driven distortion creeps in, edges out and then finally fades. But with the last song, “Something to Remember Me By,” the album ends on a less than memorable tone, rather than the booming statement that it could have been. The line “Nothing left to lose when there’s nothing left to find” may be more prescient than they think.