Sound — 10
They're an odd bunch, The Horrors. Five arch indie-goth types, hailing from Southend and until recently going by names such as Faris Rotter, Joshua Von Grimm and Coffin Joe. Their chaotic live shows, their image and their public love of obscure shoegazing, psychedelic and Krautrock records made many believe they were more into the idea of being in a band and looking cool than anything as trivial as the music. This meant that critics had a field day when their rather lightweight debut, "Strange House", was released to a rather muted reception. Follow-up "Primary Colours" was promisingly imperfect and fared a bit better, but with "Skying" they've seriously got their act together. Gone is the Sisters Of Mercy/Birthday Party/Mary Chain-aping goth-punk, and in is a sound that is instantly recognisable but somehow their own. The Cocteau Twins, The House Of Love and Ride are the reference points here - "Skying" is an album of lush six-minute pop symphonies, with metronomic beats underpinning beautiful walls of analogue synths and guitars drenched in fuzz, chorus and reverb. The band's guitarist, the endlessly inventive Joshua Hayward, is a modern-day Kevin Shields and may take a back seat for much of the album but when he comes to the fore, he really makes his stamp, particularly in the album's two standout tracks, Endless Blue and Moving Further Away. In the latter, a jazzy groove and woozy, reverb-drenched brass plod away aimlessly (but in a very pretty way) before out of nowhere, literally halfway through a bar, an absolutely brilliant fuzzy riff kicks off the sort of shoegaze-rock anthem that the likes of Swervedriver and Moose were writing in the 90s. Halfway through the eight-minute epic "Moving Further Away", the song fades away to bubbling synths before a feedback-laced guitar solo kicks off the much heavier second half of the song after a suitably Mogwai-esque build-up. If your pedalboard, like mine, is made up entirely of fuzz and delay pedals and you yearn to own a Fender Jazzmaster, you'll like this album.
Lyrics — 9
Faris Badwan may be far from the most talented singer on the current indie circuit, but his hushed, cello-like drawl fits this album perfectly. Drenched in reverb and low in the mix it may be (it's almost as if My Bloody Valentine never went away at times!) Badwan knows his way around a chorus and there's plenty of tracks that you'll be singing along to after a few listens. There's nothing overly deep about the lyrics, but as a driving force for The Horrors MKII's unique form of pop music, there doesn't need to be.
Overall Impression — 10
"Skying" is an apt name for this album. The term itself was an early term for flanging or chorusing, a favourite effect of Hayward's, but it also conjures up visions of the widescreen image and sound of this album, the "Endless Blue" that you are invited to "Dive In" on the album. It's the sound of running down a hill with your arms outstretched, drunkenly dancing with pretty girls in indie clubs or lazing away a sunny summer's day. But above all else, it's quintessentially English, invoking not the sleazy underground glamour of the band's first two albums but of the endless Arcadian vista of the English countryside, the thing that has been the muse for so much great work over the centuries. It's euphoric music at its very best. It seems The Horrors have grown up. Gone are the stage names and enforced wearing of black and straightened hair. Producing the album themselves meant they could get lost in their own world, and work on their own terms as their myriad influences were thrown into a huge melting pot. If it took them five years and three albums to produce this masterpiece, who knows where they're going to go next? I can't wait to find out. And neither, you suspect, can they.