21st Century Music: The Horrors
21st Century Music are shorter playlists and write-ups that focus on artists that have released their music since 2000. These highlight new(er) acts that continue the sound and spirit of the older acts that are highlighted on Ceremony. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along (note only YouTube has the entire playlist due to limited availability in Google and Spotify of some songs/albums).
The Horrors are one of my favourite acts of the past ten years. Why? They sound like they were lifted out of 1981 and plopped into today. They fit perfectly into the mold of my favourite electro-punk sound. Keyboards, screeching guitars, stylish and sometimes aggressive vocals, and groovy and deep basslines riding underneath, The Horrors are one of the few acts keeping the glorious sounds of early modern rock alive and are giving it new energy and the benefit of modern production. But set all that aside before you listen to them, because what’s irrefutable is they write great songs and move seamlessly between several modern rock genres, providing for a batch of the most listenable albums of the past decade. Regardless of when or who they sound like, they have established themselves as their own brand of legitimate consideration.
Formed in 2005 in Southend-on-Sea, England (the north side of the Thames River estuary, on the North Sea), they have maintained the same line-up throughout with Faris Badwan on vocals, Joshua Hayward on guitar, Tom Cowan on keyboards, Rhys Webb on bass, and Joe Spurgeon on drums. They came together through mutual affection of the garage rock of the ‘60s and the dark new wave and goth sounds of the ‘80s. So it was not surprising their early sound was a blend of those sounds, with a dark, goth-glam image to go with it. The first album, Strange House, was a fantastic run through guitar-heavy, punk-goth tunes infused with occasional glam rifts, a la Japan or Bauhaus. It was a refreshing album to find in 2007 as there wasn’t a lot of music like that coming out then.
I didn’t hear of the band next until 2011 when I caught a song in a friend’s car on an XM Radio show. I couldn’t believe it was The Horrors since the song was keyboard heavy, with lush melodies and a clean, new wave sound. I quickly discovered their album from 2009 as well as the new one, both of which were in this new musical vein. I subsequently heard the band had more or less disowned their first album and were now focused on a more refined, less raw sound. I’m not sure why that would be given how great the debut was. It reminds me of Ministry and how Al Jourgensen moved in the opposite direction, foregoing the dance-goth of his early release to lean into a pure industrial sound. The Horrors change in musical direction wasn’t as abrupt as I’d initially thought, as listening to the Primary Colours album you can hear the transition between the debut and the third album as there’s still some of that Strange House rawness.
Regardless their motivations, the result with the third album, Skying, was stupendous and it’s one of the best albums of the new millennium. It’s a fantastic assembly of electro-rock tunes, at times sounding like a Washed Out record and at others like they’re channeling 90’s era Brit-pop (I hear Suede in the song “Monica Gems”). The result was their first album to crack the top ten in the UK charts and their best yet peak at #97 in the US. The singles did less well, which is not uncommon for rock records in this era, but with a single like “Still Life” they were building a solid following in the UK and parts of Europe.
They have released two more albums that continue the sound of Skying, though more dance and pop are making their way into the mix. They are both very solid and highly enjoyable albums, the recent single, “Something to Remember Me By,” is a contemporary dance-pop tune that largely leaves behind the retro-influences of their earlier albums. I saw them in Spain last December and they’re coming to Toronto this summer to play the cozy confines of The Horseshoe Tavern – a much smaller venue than what they play at home. Indeed, while they continue to be successful in the UK, they are yet to catch a toehold in North America. So don’t miss the chance to see one of the finest acts around, especially if you’re a fan of the ‘80s and are looking for something fresh in that mold.
- Little Victories \ Strange House (2007)
- She is the New Thing \ Strange House (2007)
- Who Can Say \ Primary Colours (2009)
- Do You Remember \ Primary Colours (2009)
- Endless Blue \ Skying (2011)
- Still Life \ Skying (2011)
- Wild Eyed \ Skying (2011)
- Monica Gems \ Skying (2011)
- In and Out of Sight \ Luminous (2014)
- Falling Star \ Luminous (2014)
- Press Enter to Exit \ V (2017)
- Something to Remember Me By \ V (2017)