The Horrors, ‘Skying’ – First Listen

With new influences ranging from Tears For Fears to ’60s pop, the (mainly) black-clad boys lift the shroud on their much-anticipated third album, ‘Skying’

1. Changing The Rain
With neither bang nor whimper, The Horrors announce their return with a mid-paced baggy overture. Yes, baggy. The sort of hazily mixed, magpie-eyed grab-bag of instruments and styles that defines the rest of the record, it ends with sleigh bells and woozy multi-tracked handclaps, à la Sleigh Bells.

Rhys Webb: “This was actually the last track we were working on in January; we liked it so much we made it the album opener. We got to use Josh’s self-made 20-stage phaser that gives the album its name.”
Tom Cowan: “This was a little bit of a Frankenstein track as we had two songs that weren’t really working. Luckily Rhys saw a connection and we managed to cull the best from both and fuse them together.”


2. You Said
Faris puts on his best charcoal trenchcoat and air of wonder in a song that’s somewhere between Tears For Fears and forgotten pop crooner Black. Accordingly, he summons the full range of Cold War lyrical bleaknesses: “Stretching far into another night/A landscape with no hope”.

Tom: “When people hear this they say things like, ‘I like that backing vocal’ or ‘I like that guitar’, when actually what they’re pointing out is an entirely different instrument. People don’t always know what they’re getting with us, and we like to keep them guessing.”

3. I Can See Through You
Features an insistent krauty beat befriending a sugary keyboard line. Faris drops the usual vocal portent to return to a jaded whisper, before the song builds into a wonderfully immediate chorus.

Rhys: “It started life as a chunky piano-led rocker. I think its going to be great live – it doesn’t really sound like anything on the first two albums but very much reminds me of the energy of the early Horrors sound. Maybe it’s the organ!”


4. Endless Blue
A ponderous opening in which dubby bass mingles genially with dubby brass, before the pace shifts sharply and a so-very-’90s slice of straight-up guitar riff tears in, sounding not unlike it fell off the back end of the first Placebo record.

Rhys: “I love this track. We started playing it at festivals last year. We wrote this on a Monday, which might explain its lazy introduction – I think the song got faster as the day went on and we shook the weekend blues away.”

5. Dive In
In which one of the English language’s least-used sentences gets a good workout, namely: “The Horrors have gone a bit Jesus Jones.” A spidery psychedelic guitar arpeggio, plus a classic ‘funky drummer’ baggy beat, plus Faris tuning his voice to ‘mystical lengthy holding of notes’ for the verse – but before it gets too bizarre they offer a more menacing chorus, then strip everything back.

Tom: “’Dive In’ is one of the heavier tracks, but it’s still got a great groove and a chorus to make your head churn.”


6. Still Life
The first single, which you can hear now at Psychedelic samples give way to a very 1982 synth riff, which leads to a chorus that has much of the ‘big music’ bombast of Simple Minds, delivered with Faris’s own brand of langour.

Rhys: “Faris and I started work on this track at his flat and sent it to Tom, who introduced the idea of the break and brass at the end.”

7. Wild Eyed
Very understated breather – Faris’ softly mumbled nothings, the return of the dubby trumpets – but it feels like it’s all over before it’s begun, and in a way it is: despite clocking in at around four minutes long it’s the album’s shortest track.

Rhys: “‘Still Life’ was the first track we wrote for ‘Skying’. After a year on the road, before the night was out we had recorded the first demo. It was so relaxed and pretty exciting. I left saying to myself, ‘If that’s the first track we’ve written, what’s the rest of it going to sound like?’”

8. Moving Further Away
A missing link between krautrock and first-wave new wave, Faris sings, “Everybody moving further away” over and over, with the air of Can at their most optimistic plus The Human League at their most melancholic. At 8:39 it’s ‘Sea Within A Sea’-sized – then a synth arp and seagull noises white-out the rest before the whole thing gradually congeals into something darker, as a nasty little rock riff takes charge.

Tom: “This one was quite the mammoth task. Rhys was dead set on the perfect sound for the main melody and drove me half mad as I systematically tried every synth in the room to no avail. When we realised one wouldn’t cut it we had to find the best combination of two, and also the best way of combining them, which meant repeating the whole process again.”


9. Monica Gems
Suede complete their recent transformation from the naff elder brothers of Britpop into the hip reference everyone’s trying to drop by receiving this affectionate homage, complete with Estuary-vowelled backing vox and a lovely stuttering riff that could happily have slotted into the first half of ‘Suede’. Also has shades of ‘Village Green…’-era Kinks, mind.

Rhys: “It was written with the quirkyness of some great English ’60s pop in mind. We always like tracks with people’s name in the title too.” Tom: “Josh’s guitar modular synth is used to great effect all over this one, screaming and whining like a Jaguar possessed!”

10. Oceans Burning
A beautiful way to end, and possibly the finest thing they’ve yet written. Here The Horrors channel the bit of Britpop that history often forgets about: the blue-lit quintessentially English melancholia of ‘Pantomime Horse’ or ‘He Thought Of Cars’, before breaking it all down, then re-constituting it into a flurry of instrument-heavy Marion-turning-krautrock scree. It all adds up to another track that weighs in just below the eight-minute mark, for a total running time that stretches to 54 minutes across 10 tracks.

Rhys: “Josh had built a massive effects unit for his guitar before we started writing, and it was used to great effect on this.” Tom: “I remember being taken ill when the first part of this one was being written. I had my head buried in the sofa while I could hear this beautiful song taking form and just thinking, ‘Fuck, this is just up my street, why today of all days?’ I just wanted to be sick and go to bed, but all the time I was fighting it because I wanted to join in the fun.”

This article originally appeared in the June 4th issue of NME

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