The Horrors - Luminous

Album Of The Week was a straight-up dogfight this week, a brutally even match between two strong competitors. In one corner, there was Lykke Li’s beautifully heart-trampled breakup album I Never Learn, in which Li ditches all her kinda-cute dance-pop tics and goes straight for the emotional jugular. For a breakup album, this one takes the rare oh wow, I fucked everything up perspective (rather than the more popular you ruined my life, I hate yoooouuu side), and it communicates that feeling with these grandly vulnerable gestures, throwing out regret after regret and ending after just half an hour of self-flagellation. If I’d just broken up with someone, I’d probably be clinging to the album like a favorite blanket. But for such an emotional gutter-crawl, the album goes down remarkably easily; if you’re not sobbing along, you might forget you’re listening to it. That was the deciding factor, the reason I gave the nod this week to the Horrors’ majestically swooping rave-pop move Luminous. (There are other albums this week, obviously, but these were the two I liked the best.) Luminous and I Never Learn don’t have all that much in common, but they’re both big and expansive, both recorded with an ear toward cinematic fidelity, both easy to imagine echoing around the back of a festival field. But the Horrors are going for tingling euphoria rather than teeth-gnashing loss, and from where I’m sitting, they’re nailing it.

Four albums in, perhaps the greatest thing about the Horrors is their ability to change into a completely new band from one album to the next, tackling some new invented subgenre and pushing themselves as deeply into it as they can. They started out with fashion-conscious goth-punk, moved onto pulsating psychedelic almost-kraut, and then went all arena-synthpop on their last album, 2011′s Skying. So far, the knock on Luminous, at least among people who don’t like it, is that it’s too close in sound and substance to Luminous, that it represents the band finding a plateau and just staying there. Luminous, then, is the band’s Ill Communication, the album that ends the grand leaps into the unknown and replaces them with slight but significant tweaks. But Ill Communication is still a great album, and anyway I’ll take the Horrors’ slight tweaks over chanting Buddhist monks or whatever. And the big tweak here — really, it’s not all that slight — is that it finds the band adapting dance-music textures without ever quite adapting dance-music tempos.

Every Horrors record is some sort of pastiche, and Luminous moves the band’s references points about five years forward, from 1985 to 1990. They’re no longer doing Echo & The Bunnymen/Psychedelic Furs incandescent churning, the way they were on Skying. Instead, they’re taking their inspiration from the moment when rave and rock started to bleed into each other in the UK, when people were still in love with the new drugs they were taking, when all these genres didn’t have so many codes and rules yet. Primal Scream and the Happy Monday figure heavily into what the band is doing here, but this isn’t their Madchester record. I hear just as much of that early rave-pop: the Shamen, the Orb, the Beloved’s incredible “The Sun Rising,” Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Big Audio Dymanite II, even Jesus Jones. These groups wore overalls and top hats and those little rectangular granny-glasses sunglasses, but they weren’t making dance music — or most of them weren’t, anyway. Instead, they were using the elements of acid house — the pounded pianos, the breakbeat shuffles, the ripples of synth — and used them to reach for the same starry-eyed transcendence that every psychedelic rock band in history had in mind. (This is some of the first music I ever loved, so I’m biased in the Horrors’ favor here.) That’s what the Horrors do here, too, and they get as close to transcendence as any of those groups.

If anything, the biggest problem on Luminous is that the greatest moment of transcendence comes less than three minutes into the album, as the slow-building synth-swirls of the extended intro to opening track “Chasing Shadows” give way to a titanic cymbal-crash and a sudden rush of guitar ecstasy. It’s a total Chemical Brothers moment, a dizzy whoosh of euphoria that just can’t sustain itself for the whole album. And the Horrors’ rhythm section isn’t in the business of crafting hands-in-the-air freakout anthems. Actually, the band has never sounded quite this much like Oasis, and that’s mostly because of the cocksure strut of those drums and that bass. For all the waves of echo coming from the keyboards, the grooves here are big and meaty and organic, and they mesh awfully well with the laser-tracers floating above them.

Frontman Faris Badwan’s voice is the second-biggest problem. He never quite grabs hold of the songs, and he’s content to let his airy delivery waft around with the syth-twinkles. But if you stop thinking of Badwan as a traditional frontman, as the person charged with turning these grooves into anthems, he sounds a whole lot better. Badwan is just one part of a busy, fluttering mix, a sonic building-block rather than a figurehead. And there are so many other things going on in the mix — the Tangerine Dream film-score pulses on “I See You,” the high-stepping hi-hats on “In And Out Of Sight,” the processed-into-infinity guitars on “Mine And Yours” — that Badwan doesn’t need to do much for this to sound spectacular. So no, Luminous won’t have the emotional resonance for so many that I Never Learn surely will. If you’re feeling like weasels are ripping apart your soul, it will not help you feel any better. But if you feel like stepping outside, breathing in warm spring air, and feeling invincible, then Luminous is a thing you need in your life right now.

Luminous is out now on XL.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Lykke Li’s above-discussed bum-out I Never Learn.
• tUnE-yArDs’ giddy art-pop splurge Nikki Nack.
• Lily Allen’s messy, divisive Sheezus.
• Brian Eno and Underworld frontman Karl Hyde’s full-length collab Someday World.
• Atmosphere’s durably thoughtful Southsiders.
• Papercuts’ inward indie-popper Life Among The Savages.
• Young Magic’s sunny, hypnotic Breathing Statues.
• Fujiya & Miyagi’s spazzy neon comeback Artificial Sweeteners.
• PAWS’ bad-vibes slopfest Youth Culture Forever.
• Rodrigo Amarante’s atmospheric solo folk debut Cavalo.
• Yalls’ dancey bedroom-pop debut United.
• Kite Party’s dreamy Come On Wondering.
• Ifing’s soaring black metal attack Against This Weald.
• Aurvandil’s epic black metal meditation Thrones.
• Santana’s guest-heavy Corazón.
• Baths’ Ocean Death EP.

Comments (49)
  1. Yup! Spot on here. I think it might be their best effort to date because all of the ideas they’ve presented over the years (and done well at that) just come together here, and then some.

  2. Nikki Nack rules.

    • Almost amazed Nikki Nack is not being met with greater acclaim. I mean, the reviews are good, but it really feels like it’s earning the kind of hyperbole w h o k I l l received. It’s really just an amazing album.

      • I’m not so sure. I posted this somewhere else, but I don’t feel like Nikki Nack marries cacophony with hooky fun as well as W H O K I L L did. Meryl set too high a standard for this one.

        The new Lykke Li album rules.

    • It’s funny, Nikki Nack seems way more accessible than whokill, yet it didn’t grab me as immediately as whokill did. I think that’s because there’s so much going on on the album. It’s a really good album, though.

  3. I don’t get why this album is getting kind of mixed reviews. I’d say it’s almost as good as Primary Colours.

  4. I love the new Lykke Li album – feels like the most brutal breakup album since The Antlers’ Hospice.

  5. I’m not going to try to deny that I didn’t spend the first half of my morning listening to Lily Allen cause that is just a very fun album

    but on to more serious tones that Lykke Li demanded my attention the first time I listened to it and its so damn heart breaking in the best way. I feel like this week had a good mix of moods with plenty of albums to enjoy during the day and albums like I Never Learn which are perfect for late night listening.

    Nikki Nack is probably my personal choice for album of the week. I love the maturity leap the duo is taking and the concentration somehow adds to their overall aesthetic more so than Whokill. Its definitely the most accessible thing they’ve come out with and I’m still finding things I’ve missed every time I listen to it.

    I’m a new horrors fan, I just picked up Primary Colours about two weeks ago, so I don’t have a lot to go on for Luminous. But I will say that its a great record for getting somebody into them because I’m loving every song. I agree that the vocals are a bit lacking in the overall sound but everything else lets me float along through my day

    and I’ll give PAWS a shoutout cause I’m a sucker for 90′s indie rock disciples

    • Good for you picking up “Primary Colours” as I’d consider it their best album. It was a crucial turning point for the band as they abandoned their debut “Strange House” entirely when it came out. Something that would be very hard to do for a band with only two albums, but not an issue when every single track on “Primary Colours” is so damn good.

      • Primary Colours was just SUCH a drastic and excellent change of pace. Solid as a D, and better on the ears.

        I really appreciated this write-up TomTom. Your love shines through. On my first listen, I was actually kind of underwhelmed (if that’s a word). However, subsequent listens have revealed this to be a “grower” and, not only that, a “tall grower.” Perfect summer album, right in time (for summer!) ;)

  6. It has a great sound and they’re still a great band, but this record feels very stale. It’s just like Skying but only with lesser tunes.

    Skying is great album with trippy but at the same time cohese songs, the effects and studio trickery are there, but also the songs.

    With a couple excepetions, i don’t see it here, i’m sure that a lot of people with get turned on by this and that’s great, more power to them, but it’s certainly not doing it for me.


    After seeing [REDACTED]‘s predictable passing of “Luminous” this morning, it’s refreshing to see Tom give it the praise it deserves. The Horrors already achieved greatness on “Primary Colours” and really seemed to have found their comfort zone on “Skying.” I’m still digesting “Luminous” and don’t think it is fair to reduce it to Skying Part 2. It seems so much more than that, but I’m still figuring out what that is exactly.

    The Horrors were one of the big reasons I went to Austin Psych Fest this past weekend (War on Drugs being reason #1). Their set pulled 3 songs from each of their albums (“Strange House” is dead to them) and included the 2 songs from “Luminous” they released in advance as well as “In And Out Of Sight,” which was my first time hearing that tune. Tom’s mention of a more danceable Horrors was immediately apparent, especially in a festival setting. I typically don’t dance to Horrors songs, but I was definitely moving more to that track than anything else in their set. I even made a mental note that when I listened to “Luminous” to keep an ear out for “the dance-y track” but found I didn’t immediately register which song that was on my first pass.

    The Horrors are officially three for three on stellar opening tracks. I love the 3-minute ambient intro on “Chasing Shadows” (seemingly echoed in a shorter sense on single “So Now You Know” two songs later). It feels like a slow ascent to the immaculate monolith pictured on the cover. I’ll give [REDACTED] credit in pointing out that the album truly does sound luminous.

    And if the best criticism detractors can give “Luminous” is that it sounds like “Skying” — so what? I’ve listened to “Skying” so much since its release that I read that as high praise. It’s not The Horrors fault pitchfork dropped the ball with “Primary Colours” and have been forced to pass on their subsequent albums. Giving “Skying” or “Luminous” high praise now would basically be them admitting they were wrong about “Primary Colours” (because they were wrong).

    Great pick. So happy to see The Horrors getting the attention they’ve deserved for many years.

    • I disagree with their review for Luminous, but Pitchfork liked Skying and Primary Colours (they both got 7.5), so not sure where they dropped the ball there.

      • “Primary Colours” was groundbreaking and deserved a BNM. Their biggest complaint with “Luminous” today is that it sounds like “Skying” yet when The Horrors completely reinvented themselves with flying (primary) colours in 2009… 7.6?

        But the score isn’t even the issue (the score is always arbitrary), it’s the fact they spent 2009 acting like that album didn’t even exist. “Primary Colours” was making waves. Take this glowing review from audiophile extraordinaire Trent Reznor:

        “We are very pleased and honored to premiere the new video from one of our favorite bands, The Horrors. “Mirror’s Image” is the new single from their excellent record “Primary Colours”. If you haven’t heard this record yet, do so now – this has been in top rotation with us for the entire tour.CLICK HERE TO WATCH & DOWNLOAD “MIRROR’S IMAGE.”If you were lucky enough to get tickets for the 8/22, 8/23 or 8/25 shows in New York, remember to arrive early and catch these guys.TR”

        “Do so now.” That’s some high praise. You know you’ve made an amazing album when you leave Trent Reznor stunned.

        So yeah, p4k dropped the ball. No mention in their Top Albums of 2009 or Honorable Mentions even though they could’ve redeemed themselves. They had tUnE-yArDs at #44 on their list when it only received a 6.8 earlier that year. A prime example of how their scores are arbitrary. I guess they wrote it off as they do a lot of British rock, and it’s a damn shame.

        • Uh-huh. I’m waiting for the day when people start complaining that an album only gets 9/10 in a review. You act like they’re The Mars Volta or something and Pitchfork have always hated their guts.

        • Pitchfork’s problem is Ian Cohen. That man writes shitty reviews of everything which is good.

          • It’s like he’s trying to bring back the “Low Score” pitchfork from the early aughts.

            *Dusts off some 5s and 6s*

            “Haven’t seen you guys in a while low scores!”

          • I think a lot of the reviews he pans just tend to be outside of the realm of his interest, which isn’t necessarily his fault. If it’s smart pop-punk, indie- emo / #emorevival, male-oriented sophisticated / sappy indie rock (the National, Sufjan, Mutual Benefit, Sun Kil Moon), pretty experimental electronic music (Baths, How to Dress Well), Drake rap or slick pseudo-indie alt pop-rock (the 1975, Bombay Bicycle Club,) you’ll probably find a review score with his byline next to it as favorable. I think a lot of the cynically negative reviews he gets to write would otherwise be more favorable if they were written by anyone else over there, but for whatever reason, he keeps getting assigned / assigning himself to albums that are doomed to get low scores. There’s a reason why people see an album review and then see his name next to it and say, “I knew this was going to be a low score before I even clicked it.”

            Also, he reads these comments and occasionally passive aggressively makes mention of them on Twitter, etc. so just keep in mind that every time you complain about him here, he’s going to blame me for it in front of the world.

          • He’s also probably a decent dude, and imagining the pointless downvotes I get here magnified by the tenfold out in the public in every direction of the Internet for just being a divisive writer on a very popular music site, I try to do my best to empathize for his cagey defensiveness even though it’s frown-inducing when one of my favorite bands gets a 6 or below score, which means less people might not listen to it, their album sales may not be as strong, ticket sales may soften, etc. — the general Pitchfork effect.

          • Notable exception: Lykke Li, I Never Learn, 8.4, BEST NEW MUSIC. Not an emo record.

          • I’m a little skeptical about how that Lykki Li album will hold up come their year-end list and whether that BNM was done with sincere praise or because they have ulterior motives behind giving it a good review. There’s always a handful of 8.4 or less BNM reviews that feel like they’re done just to appease their standing with an artist or trend, but come year-end, they’re absent altogether. A former Pitchfork writer who now works at SPIN wrote a post on his blog last year about how that was was one of many reasons why he left. He hinted that when he was there, one buzz genre album (rumored to have been Twin Shadow’s debut) was deemed as just okay by the writers, but they were pressured into giving it a Best New Music tag for trend and traffic revenue reasons. The Lykki Li album has mixed reception on a universal level (a 76 currently on Metacritic,) and none of the early previews off of it were given Best New Track reviews. They did a big interview with her, but other than that, it didn’t seem like they were too excited about the album before Tuesday’s review dropped.

    • I still haven’t had a good, immersive headphones listen of Luminous yet, but I FUCKING LOVE “So Now You Know.” So there’s that.

  8. Lykke’s new record landed about 3 months too late to hit me when I really needed a breakup album,but I’m still going to treat it as a favourite blanket anyway because it’s such a remarkable record. You can practically feel the emotion just dripping off Lykke’s voice. I think the most striking thing about it is the sheer scale; it’s VAST. It might have something to do with the echo and reverb, but somehow Lykke has created an absolutely huge landscape of sound with a real cinematic quality to it. Fantastic LP.

  9. Sorry, but the correct choice was Nikki Nack; better luck next week, Tom.

    • You are the biggest tUnE-yArDs fan I know Wesley.

      • I know I’m probably annoying as fuck about it. But really, BiRD-BrAiNs spoke to me in such a profound way that I’ve been a Garbus stan ever since. Can’t help it. And it just really bugs that most indie critics just don’t get it the way they get other buzz artists. I mean, is Merrill Garbus really that weird? I don’t think so.

        • “Nikki Nack” is the first tUne-yArDs record I ever heard and I didn’t think she was that weird. Well, the whole bit about eating children is PRETTY weird, but I think it’s the good kind. You all know I’m a sequencing nut and the track ordering on “Nikki Nack” impressed me. You know “Rocking Chair” passes the patent-pending “raptor jesus’ penultimate track test” by giving listener’s a heads up that the record is winding down.

          For me though, it’s just not my cup of tea. She’s a phenomenal lyricist, but at the end of the day, lyrics don’t hold as much weight to me as it does for others. That’s why I’m more of a Horrors fan because I like it when the vocals get mixed into the sound and become another tone in the mix.

          Garbus’ voice is something else and definitely deserves high praise. Honestly, I wouldn’t have bothered checking out “Nikki Nack” without your fervent praise Wesley. Don’t you dare shut up, dude. Your stan-dom got me to take listen. It’s the small victories.

        • I had a similar initial response to w h o k i l l (that was my introduction to Garbus). But Nikki Nack is absolutely sublime. Definitely my favorite album of the week. Then it’s Lykke Li, then the Horrors. But yeah, an absolutely great week for new releases.

  10. I haven’t listened to any of these album’s (my bad) but I’d like to express my LOVE for Ocean Death, it’s a great little treat. Also, not sure if Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “Christmas Island” is eligible for this week or next but it’s great too (though I’m not yet sure if I like it better than “Knife Man” which is near perfect imo).

  11. The Horrors’ new album is excellent. Much better than the disappointing third Lykke Li album.

  12. Great writeup!
    I wish you luck with next week’s AOTW, I’m sure it will not be an easy choice.

  13. Papercuts for me. It’ll be on many year end lists., it’s a real grower.

  14. “So far, the knock on Luminous, at least among people who don’t like it, is that it’s too close in sound and substance to Luminous”

    That’s fair, I guess.

  15. Y’all completely overlooked BADBADNOTGOOD.

  16. Very courteous of you to include I Never Learn, it’s really beautiful and raw and definitely deserved recognition this week.

  17. Seriously though, Nikki Nack should at least be in heavy rotation.

  18. This must be the most common comment in this article, but I don’t mind:

    Nikki Nack >>>>>>>>>>>…………………>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Luminous (and Nikki Nack is not the best tUnE-yArdS album)

    I know that last Horrors album has its moment, but nahhh, I think you gave them the AOW title only because they deserve more attention after years of good work, and yeah, that’s true.

  19. If this is better than Nikki Nack…


  20. I actually really liked the new Papercuts album. Haven’t listened to this or Lykke Li yet, but Tune Yards didn’t really grab me the first time.

  21. Lot of Nikki Nack love here. I’ve listened to it like 4 times and nothing is sticking. I loved w h o k i l l but I’m just not feeling the new one. Then again, maybe I’m just dead inside.

  22. People of the Stairs had a new album drop, should be on the list of notables.

  23. ….is that it’s too close in sound and substance to SKYING…

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