The Horrors Troxy, London 4th October 2014 Eight years ago, five weird, unhealthy looking lads from Southend On Sea appeared on the cover of NME. Their eyes popped out like the Camden synthetic drug addicts they presumably borrowed their outfits from, accompanied without even a hint of irony by the caption ‘They’re Freaky, They Rock, They’re Taking Over’. Their debut LP Strange House was similarly as polarising, prompting ridicule among those just touching the surface and tentative acclaim from anyone willing to dig a little deeper.
Between a strikingly self aware appearance on The Mighty Boosh and an album of the year, The Horrors have stopped traversing UK music’s undulating cool spectrum, shedding their layers of histrionics and settling as one of XL’s strongest, most consistent guitar bands. Their latest LP Luminous is the first time they’ve built on a framework already laid out, rather than undertaking a stylistic overhaul. And in the context of their progressive, transmogrifying body of work, it’s telling that this alone manages to blight what is still, at times, a breathtaking array of songs.
Tonight’s show at East London’s Troxy feels fitting, with the old, gothic art-decor just about permeating through the building’s modern renovations. “Chasing Shadows” could quite easily have been purpose built as a set opener, with its cloudy layers of feedback and electronics making way for the bands mysterious, cloak-and-dagger introduction. Faris Badwan remains almost rooted to his stage mark throughout, delivering each lyric with a self-reliant indifference that keeps the whole thing almost intensely stylised. And it would be easy to accuse them of detachment, keeping their influences and audience at arm’s length in a way that never truly exposes the musicians behind them. But backed by the thumping sound system and acoustics of the building, the parts and layers that make up these songs - however deliberate and contrived - are deployed in a way that serves but never overshadows. That piercing hook from “Who Can Say” is so colossal that it acts as the rhythmic driving force of the song, rather than a decorative flourish, and those atonal, instrumental bellows on “Scarlet Fields” almost feel like we’re watching Gesaffelstein in a festival tent waiting for ‘the drop’. Tonight, the similarities to their noise-mongering, shoegazing contemporaries feels less like a throwback and more like a defining feature that they’ve fully and truly immersed themselves in.
The towering “Still Life” is an inevitable highlight – it’s the type of song that would have kept John Hughes awake at night. It lingers in the back of your mind when you worry if the best days of your life are behind you, capable of creating melancholy during quiet moments of introspection and rapture out of muted celebrations. In the context of this performance and their body of work it feels like a moment of indulgence, even absolution, from a group of guys who have spent a long time being taken more seriously than they might have liked. “We’re not the sort of band that can sit around with acoustic guitars on the tour bus, playing new songs to each other. We much prefer to go into a studio, with everything set up” - bassist Rhys ‘Spider’ Webb explained in a 2009 interview with Clash, suggesting that the emotional backbone of their songs is channelled through studio precision rather than the act of writing it. There’s no right or wrong way to be a good band, and it’s true that as many people love music for its technical mastery as they do because they connect with the people behind it. An encore of “So Now You Know” and “Moving Further Away” further emphasises their ability to explore the emotional properties of sound and texture, creating centerpieces out of psych-rock breakdowns or sprawling My Bloody Valentine-eseque codas in a way that bridges the challenging with the popular in a way that few other mainstream UK Guitar band is doing right now.
As they negotiate their way through their catalogue, you get the impression that The Horrors will always create music that you have to feel, rather than understand. The euphoria of “Still Life” might seem like a brief moment of abandon in what is a deftly serious and clinical performance, but this is still a mightily impressive showing from a band who know their strengths well enough to be able to rely on them alone.
Chasing Shadows In And Out Of Sight Who Can Say Sea Within A Sea Scarlet Fields Sleepwalk Endless Blue Change Your Mind Still Life I See You --------------- So Now You Know Moving Further Away