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Album review: Band of Horses, 'Mirage Rock'

**1/2 (out of four)

Every dude, I think, likes to imagine himself as the sort of rugged, all-American badass who drives vintage muscle cars and looks cool in his emotion-concealing Ray-Bans. This guy does not actually exist anymore, if he ever did, but, in the age of Instagram, it's not too hard to look the part. Throw on a plaid shirt and put a Johnny Cash album on your iPhone and you're all set.

This safe, time-honored way to be cool is basically the deal with Band of Horses, a Seattle indie rock band that moved to South Carolina and became the sort of throwback country band it's okay to like if you don't like country music.

“Mirage Rock,” the group’s fourth album, hews to a very comfortable form of Americana, with songs that all seem to have been written for driving down a desert highway. The Neil Young undertones are strong. But these days the rugged bro is now also a sensitive bro, and Band of Horses singer Ben Bridwell serves as a perfect example. His lyrics are carefully considered, and his voice is best described as pretty. The music – think Willie Nelson filtered through The Shins – possesses no rough edges. Other than meandering acoustic closer “Heartbreak on the 101,” the highlights of “Mirage Rock” are louder tracks like “Knock Knock” that take slightly more of a sonic risk.

That classic Americana stuff appeals to people because it looks effortless, but “Mirage Rock” does not feel effortless – except for on the title track, a deluxe edition bonus cut full of the kind of casual riffing that vintage muscle cars deserve. It's an album that plays too nice, and the result is that it sounds nice, too.

Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic


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