Acoustic at the Ryman, by Band of Horses (Album of the Week)

This album is a limp handshake from a future friend.

This week, Robin chose to have us listen to Acoustic at the Ryman, as an introduction to a band neither of us know knew, but will be seeing live later in the summer. This is not a band that should be met on an acoustic stage, stripped of the muscle and energy that make them compelling. It’s kind of like watching someone play whiffle ball and learning later that it was Albert Pujols swinging the light plastic imitation of his power.

Now, having gone back and listened to some of the Band of Horses catalog, I can see how this could be a fine addition to a fan’s collection of their work. If you see this album as a fresh version of some old faves, then, yeah, you might rave over it. But I’m here to tell you that it’s a terrible first exposure.

If you saw Mick Jagger plucking away at a banjo and wistfully singing “Miss You”, you’d think it’s awesome, because it contrasts with the “real” version you already know. But if you didn’t know Mick Jagger, and had never heard him do it right, you’d think “Why would anybody listen to that, and that wooooo-hoooo-hoooo-hoooo crap has got to go!”

Take, for example, “Slow Cruel Hands of Time“. On first listen of this album, it is so awful that you will start to snicker at it. The harmonies are slap-your-knee funny, as the two singers awkwardly botch their starts and stops like someone had just handed them a sheet of music for the first time and smashed their metronome. “No, you first . . .,” you can almost hear them muttering. Maybe it’s endearing if you love these guys, but if you’re giving it an honest listen, it is hilariously bad, and the over-wrought lyrics just make it funny. But when you go and listen to the original studio version, it’s actually a pretty good song.

Another song that suffers from the translation to an acoustic version is the kind of dickishly named “No One’s Gonna Love You”. The album version uses a great bass line, crisp drums and electric guitars to suck you into bouncing along with the bitter loss of the song. Slowed down and stripped of the wattage, it’s a pathetic emo psycho piece of crap that would be marked as Exhibit A in proceedings for a restraining order.

It says something major about the album that my favorite parts were the “Thank yous” and the cheering. They are heart-warming. The audience LOVES this band – you can sense that everyone there knows every word to every song, and they respond lovingly. In turn, Ben Bridwell thanks them with absolutely charming “Thank yous” that are so genuine that you have to like the guy. He just seems like a really great guy.

Objectively, though, as a piece of music, this album is kind of awful. Really awkward. Embarrassing, even. But I accept that if you bring enough baggage to the performance, you could have a great time with it.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin misconstrues entirely what I’m saying about this album, and offers a completely different appreciation of the work. Robin agrees with me that the audience loved it, though she imagines that I thought they giggled at it (I wrote “they respond lovingly”). She takes a kinder approach to this album, by going back, listening to the studio versions of the songs, and then appreciating these acoustic knock-offs as fun variants. In a sense, she went back, picked up the baggage of a fan of the band, and returned to the Ryman ready to appreciate Mick Jagger crooning an acoustic “Miss You”. That’s great and generous, but if you’re not already a fan, and you listen to this album as an independent work of art, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me, not her.

Next up: Teeth Dreams, by The Hold Steady

One Response to “Acoustic at the Ryman, by Band of Horses (Album of the Week)”

  1. [...] This is especially so, in that we listened to the dialed back acoustic versions of their songs. Dan gives Band of Horses’ Acoustic at the Ryman a lashing over at Gone Mild. After reading his review, I had to go back and listen for some of the awfulness that he mentions, [...]

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