The Horrors aren’t used to sitting still. Within even individual songs, new sounds and instruments constantly slot into place and fade away, each playing their part in a modular system that sees simple foundations build into towering, skyscraper-songs like the Portishead-sampling “Sea Within a Sea” or the eight minute odyssey “Moving Further Away”. This stochastic approach to composition naturally extends to their varied catalogue of albums; the angry garage-goth of their debut Strange House was cooled down, stripped of mascara and warped into a completely different mould to become the group’s defining statement, Primary Colours.
What sounded so alarming about 2014’s Luminous, then, was less the quality of the music, and more how similar it sounded to previous effort Skying. Its airy blend of reverb-saturated guitars and exosphere synths was certainly pleasant, but the inexorable sense of progress that beat behind earlier releases was gone.
That thrilling dynamism returns on their fifth album, V, heralded by the stuttering, industrial splurge with which first single “Machine” opens. The band hasn’t sounded this guttural and raw since their debut, and even when the track lapses into a more familiar structure, that sense of chaos still lurks just beneath the surface.
Such adventurous resolve colours the whole album, with songs transforming in an instant; the relaxed beat of “Point of No Reply” promptly boards a spacecraft and disappears around the 3-minute mark, fending off attempts to bring it back earthwards and achieving full orbit by the song’s end.
Guitars are switched to the ‘funk’ and ‘folk’ settings on “Press Enter to Exit” and “Gathering”, whilst “Weighed Down” grimly carves out a tribal rhythm as lead singer Faris Badwan appeals to a lover trapped under “The darkness on your shoulders”. The lyrics, here and throughout, fuse disparate sounds with unifying themes of despair and depersonalisation. Badwan reduces his characters to holograms and automatons, shadows of selves that often fade away entirely – the propulsive synth that drives “It’s a Good Life” masks horribly depressing lyrics about loneliness and suicide: “She lay in the dark, but I don’t know who found her”.
Sonically and lyrically then, the album feels like a conscious renunciation of the band’s pop sensibilities. Its ten tracks defy easy genre classification and eschew the casual romance of earlier efforts like “Still Life”, embracing a downbeat, outsider-rock sound; it’s music to fill darkened basements rather than stadiums.
With this moody re-brand in mind then, it’s to the band’s credit that they save a curveball for the album’s finale, the glimmering jewel of dance-pop that is “Something to Remember Me By”. This emphatic closer straps a towering, organic keyboard melody to lyrics about heartbreak and yearning – it’s everything that the preceding tracks have been trying to move away from. Such a bold move risks undermining the band’s new direction, but instead reinforces the sense of diversity and range flaunted across the entire record. Perfectly in keeping with the vibrant creative spirit that fired the forge of their earlier work, V is a defiant return to form.