Five of the best: The Horrors

Daniel Lovatt dug deep into the back catalogue of The Horrors, a band who have never stood still during their career as one of '00s indie's most alluring acts.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 25th Jun 2018.
Originally published: 24th May 2018

Image: The Horrors (credit)

Ahead of an incredibly hectic 2018, it’s no surprise that we have chosen to dedicate a piece to indie stallions The Horrors, a band notorious for their audio evolution, from:  garage-punk to goth, to shoegaze to post-punk to synth-pop. Their continuously changing sound and aesthetic set the marker for new comers in how to be true experimenters in their field, and their brand of diversity has had fans going delirious for over a decade. 2018 is yet another platform for the group to both progress and present their vast back catalogue of music to an impatient UK audience. 

 As well as releasing a new single ‘Fire Escape/Water Drop’ this year, the band are blessing all manner of festivals, such as: Dot to Dot, Citadel, Standon CallingElectric Fields and Leeds festival. These five gargantuan events amongst other shows such as a support slot for Suede in London, a support slot for Slaves in Hull and other sold out shows in The UK and U.S like Manchester, L.A and San Francisco. Pretty impressive. 

Before they delve into that incredible journey, we deemed it only fitting to display their talents with a hand selected ensemble featuring five of their best songs from their five studio albums. An incredibly painstaking activity, but one we took great pleasure in compiling. We hope to incentivise you, if you are not already, to seize the opportunity in seeing one of the most eclectic bands of the 21st century to date. Find The Horrors tickets here.

'Draw Japan' Strange House 2007

2007 was a glorious year for emerging indie music, with the likes of MGMT, the Klaxons, The National and Arctic Monkeys showing the world exactly what the genre was all about. But there was still something missing, amid the wave of this extremely likeable but light and harmless sound, there appeared to be no heavy punk band on the circuit.

Introducing, The Horrors. Although the band formed in the summer of 2005, and released a couple of singles ‘Sheena is a Parasite/Jack the Ripper’ and ‘Death at the Chapel’ in 2006, it wasn’t until 2007 that they released their debut album Strange House a choppy, new wave punk instalment. They emerged from the rubble of post-punk with spray on black jeans, an abundance of hairspray and leather jackets, producing exactly what the scene had been missing. 

Although every song has its individual merits and could stand alone, we have selected ‘Draw Japan’ as the song that encapsulates the statement that The Horrors aimed to make perfectly. Everything about the song: from the fast-paced drum sequence, the ominous effect pedals to the riffs that blast through every sound system known to humans comes together to create this unmistakable anger, a discontent with the world.

But what also stands out is the viciousness but nonetheless poetic lyrics, such as song opener: “Butcher the paper with a ravenous pen, carving out trees and scoring skin.” We know that this is one example of hundreds that we could select from the album, but this is the most effective as it shows that you can merge literacy with the pace of punk without compromising the lyrics. The Horrors really made an impact with this song, they innovated on what punk had left behind and took it to another wholesome level. Deserving all the recognition that they received. 

'Who Can Say' Primary Colours 2009

Skip ahead two years to 2009, and the horrors returned with their second album ‘Primary Colours’. This was widely regarded as a bold move by critics, as by transitioning from punk rockers to tamer shoegaze and goth infused songs could have lost them their entire fan base. Fortunately, they didn’t need to fret, as fans left behind their hairspray for a front fringe alternative like their beloved band. Primary Colours demonstrated exactly how diverse the band were, and those critics who deemed the first album to be a one-trip novelty were soon eating their words. 

Primary Colours moved The Horrors from the darkened underground into the sunlight. They evidently drew on different influences when creating the album, as there are definite refined elements from Jesus and the Mary Chain, The Velvet Underground and many more. In no song is the transition from heavy guitar to organs and words of heartbreak more beautifully crafted than in ‘Who Can Say’. One of the most defining songs by the Horrors, and a brilliant music video to accompany it, ‘Who Can Say’ reached out beyond rockers to the indie kids who spent rainy days looking out of the window and philosophising the meaning of life.

The organ tops of the sound of the more subdued, wavy goth guitar effects to create a solemn but touching song. One review from the BBC labelled it as one of the albums of the year, and you would struggle to disagree.

'Still Life' Skying 2011

When you started to contemplate whether The Horrors had explored all avenues possible, we were quickly proven otherwise.  2011 brought us the gift of ‘Skying’, the third studio album and another demonstration of an endless supply of nuances in the style of the band. This album did retain some of the elements of Primary Colours, but centralised around a shift from shoegaze-goth to 80’s new wave pop. There were definite influences from the Psychedelic Furs, The Cramps and My Bloody Valentine in this album, and those influences merged together to pay tribute to the direction of the alternative scene pre- Britpop.

The song we have selected is ‘Still Life’, a pop song in effect with a progressive synth sequence and decadent guitar sounds. What we love about Still Life is it very much subverts from a song and almost becomes art, this is emphasised by the video. Still Life seems like a message from the subconscious that makes its way through to the realm of reality, demonstrated also by Badwan’s hypnotic voice. This is arguably the pinnacle of their work, transcending any album filler songs and creating a truly inspired album. No wonder this is their most downloaded song on Spotify. 

'First Day of Spring' Luminous 2014

After a three-year hiatus, the band reproduced their magnificence with their fourth studio album ‘Luminous’.  For any band with any capabilities, to follow on from such a well -received album in the same fashion borders impossible. Critics were easy to point this out, with magazines such as Pitchfork stating that the album sounds roughly like Skying without any major transformational changes. But the nuances in this album should not be discredited.

Luminous is undoubtedly faster paced, with more acoustic guitar, electronic murmurs and even a dash of bongos. The influences have seemed to progress through the decades to a more 1990’s Madchester sound. There is unquestionably a more Happy Mondays feel to the music.

These nuances are no better expressed than in ‘First Day of Spring’ a tremendous, crowd jumping tune and still worthy of fans excitement. Firstly, there is an acoustic guitar intro that is a first for the band, and although Badwan’s voice appears to be more distorted than ever on the track, the floaty Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches esque composition with more drum symbols and loose riffs is intentionally made to fill arenas and festivals. You can debate that this album may show a lack of diversity musically, or regresses in their ability to overwhelm, but ultimately, ‘Luminous’ is the band’s first album since their launch to fame, and they deliver on building on their already established sound.

'Press Enter to Exit' 2017

The fifth and last studio album to date is ‘V’, released in 2017. In response to the heavily debated reception of ‘Luminous’, the band returned with their most ferocious, fearless selves with a f*** you to their critics, which can be seen instantly in the title if you’re familiar with British euphemisms.  The band were working with producer Paul Epworth for the first time, and working with such a well-established producer is bound to give you self-assurance.

That’s exactly what the band exercised throughout the entirety of the album, an unwillingness to make music that satisfies anybody but themselves. The inspirations were partly new, partly revisited, with songs that echoed New Order and ‘Hologram’, which was intended to be a house anthem.

Our pick from this album is ‘Press Enter to Exit’. Here, there is a brilliant fusion of late 20th century electronica with a narrative that poses several questions about identity. “What does it tell you when you change into a stranger/ what words can never be denied?” Whether Badwan is referring to a broken-down relationship or his transition into a rock star is never clarified, but this is a return to their glorious selves nonetheless. The song also retains the hypnotic elements such as the outro ‘Get up and you’ll see’ that were first mastered in Skying.

This was evidently a statement made by a band who had diversified their sound more than most bands out there, that they are conscientious of how their diversity is depicted by critics, and a retaliation on what people viewed to be ‘average follow up’ albums. But in reality, one of the most interesting bands of the past decade continued in the same fashion, and who knows what awaits around the corner. 

Find The Horrors tickets here including Citadel tickets below 

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