Mat Brooke bowed out of Band of Horses in 2006, bringing his 11-year run with the various members of Carissa's Wierd to a close. Left to his own devices for the first time since 1995, Brooke replaced the crescendos and ringing guitars of Band of Horses with the sun-baked sounds of his follow-up project, Grand Archives. The new band is still indebted to the West Coast, but while BOH's Everything All the Time took its cues from Neil Young and Brian Wilson, Grand Archives tips a hat to David Crosby and the Mamas & the Papas. "A Setting Sun" bounces with pedal steel guitar riffs and a breezy chorus, while cameos from violinist Sarah Standord and the soft-voiced Jenn Ghetto (Brooke's co-founder in Carissa's Wierd) turn "Swan Matches" into a gauzy rainy-day ballad. The group's strongest asset is its vocal strength, with four of the five members offering up their voices in thick harmony. Taken alone, Brooke's singing is perhaps a bit too smooth, his tone straightforward and his passion understated. Adding harmonies from Curtis Hall, Ron Lewis, and Jeff Montano helps to thicken the melody, and Grand Archives revolves around the strong singalong hooks that turn this debut into a soft rock record for the indie crowd. The only misstep is "The Crime Window," whose heavy-handed melodies are shouted by multiple bandmates in a manner that's meant to be exuberant, but instead comes across as out of place and somewhat jarring. It's a song that Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene could really tear into, but Grand Archives sound much better when they're belying their name, sacrificing the grand for the warmly intimate.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey