Every album ever recorded is about relationships of some nature. Relationships with lovers are a popular choice, so are relationships with family, friends, and even people you’ve just met. Band of Horses’ fifth studio album, Why Are You OK, tackles each of these in turn, as well as what may be the hardest relationship to address: the one you have with yourself.

The first track on the album “Dull Times/The Moon,” opens with loping drums and the kind of lethargic guitar playing that envelops you in the atmosphere of the song with no visible effort. Five minutes into the seven-minute intro, the mood shifts as the foggy first segment dissipates and the tempo quickens. Ben Bridwell’s voice becomes stronger and more resolved to match, and this transition acts as the foundation for the next eleven tracks. Each song serves a purpose, either maintaining the same tone from the one before it to link them or abruptly slowing down or speeding up to keep you an active listener.

Through this gas, break, gas, gas, break format, Bridwell vocalizes thoughts most people try to ignore until they go away. He sings, “What’s your life like with all that you’ve done?” Sung by someone else in a different context, this would feel aggressive, like a call out. With Bridwell’s guidance, it sounds more like he’s asking himself and invites you to do the same, and like a dad who is “not angry, disappointed” it makes you feel like shit.

This soft nudging towards self-awareness pokes at the brain through each exploration of past loves, awkward party conversations and moments when things go wrong and there’s no one to blame but yourself. Much of the record sounds like an unscripted conversation Bridwell had with himself while recording. On “Solemn Oath,” Bridwell has seemingly dismantled longer anecdotes and quilted the remnants back together in a way that reads like a secret code in a private journal. He acknowledges the patchwork quality by singing “this sounds ridiculous” halfway through the song, but he doesn’t change anything for clarity. The personal quality of “Solemn Oath” is what distinguishes the rest of the album. Bridwell gives the impression that these songs were written for himself, but if you get something out of them then that’s fine too. Sometimes it even feels a bit exclusionary until he sings lines like “passing off the blame to anybody is easy,” and you remember that time you blamed someone else for your own shortcomings because it was, in fact, easier for you.

Twice on the album,on “In A Drawer” and “Whatever, Wherever,” this power is lost. “In A Drawer” features that previously mentioned oh-so-great line about shirked blame, but overall doesn’t say much and feels monotonous. “I found it in a drawer” isn’t a line that gets better with each utterance, and it gets repeated for roughly a third of the song’s runtime. “Whatever, Wherever” is just a limp rendition of the classic “I would do anything for you” ballad. When paired with a song title that too closely resembles Shakira’s hit, it falls well behind the rest of the album and simply fills up space.

The wallow factor on this record is high, as per the usual standards of Band of Horses. Although the emotionally draining questions are held at arm’s length, it still has the sentimentality and consideration that is to be expected of the band that penned “The Funeral.” With “Why Are You OK” Band of Horses show their understanding of the human experience, especially the parts that suck.

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