Band of Horses

Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell writes lyrics that are drenched in utopian platitudes ("Lucky ones are we all, till it is over") and cringe-worthy pillow talk ("When you smile, the sun, it peeks through the clouds"). The group's weakest songs are ready-made for campfire sing-alongs. Its touring bassist even has a jam-band history. It's a revelation then that Band of Horses' debut album, Everything All the Time, was one of last year's meatiest and most devastating records. It's an even bigger surprise that Cease to Begin is nearly as good.

Producer Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, the Shins) gets everything right—from Bridwell's reverb-drenched vocals to the quick guitar stops/starts. Songs like "Cigarettes, Wedding Band" and "Is There a Ghost" benefit from perfect pacing.

Still, sometimes you wish Bridwell would just shut up. On "Ode to LRC," he sings (many, many times), "The world is such a wonderful place." But as soon as you think the song is about to choke on its own saccharine banality, a soaring, insatiable hook kicks in, and you begin to think that maybe Bridwell is on to something after all.