It’s the subtler pleasures that are on offer here from Oregon chamber-folksters Horse Feathers. Cynic’s New Year is a fragile beast with transitory fiddle, banjo, guitar and cello to cushion frontman Justin Ringle’s tentative laments and words of found wisdom.
This is measured introspection. There are no laboured heartfelt pleas, more orchestrated observations. In So Long, Ringle sings ‘the young and the vain, they are one and the same’ and in Last Waltz ‘time’s got a way to take more than it brings’. ‘Better Company’ is a haunting melancholy stroll through Ringle’s darker moments supported by a quivering mandolin.
Historically this band has been fairly fluent with its band members, which might be why Horse Feathers haven’t quite consolidated a distinctive sound that they can call their own (although staff changes didn’t do bands like The Fall any harm – but maybe the post-punk sound is more resilient). There’s a sense that the multi-instrumentalists who populate Horse Feather’s albums take the lead and perhaps overtake Ringle’s delicate song structures - as he says himself in So Long ’ it’s the melody of one that longs to be known’. In this, the fourth album (current line-up also features Nathan Crockett, Sam Cooper and Catherine Odell) there’s a panoply of talented Northwest musicians all vying for space including Dustin Dybvig, Victor Nash, Justin Power, Jedadiah Bernards, Cory Goldman, Jenn Rawling, Adam Thompson, Scott Magee and Brandon Johnson.
What would elevate Horse Feathers to another level, is for Justin Ringle’s glorious honey throated voice (think Gomez’ quieter moments) to be supported by stronger song structures. Subtlety is great for so long, but now and again we want something to get right under our skin. Sometimes more is more.
Review by: Selina Ream
Cynic’s New Year is released on Kill Rock Stars (April 30th)
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