Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Horse Feathers - House With No Home (2008)

Horse Feathers - House With No Home (2008)

My interest in Horse Feathers began with the fact that lead singer and main member Justin Ringle composes all songs on his own. Later Peter Broderick mixes everything and adds in all of the orchestra to go along with his music. This isn't a bad thing whatsoever, and Horse Feathers is able to inhabit the chamber-folk genre quite well. But it does make the inception of the songs a more interesting prospect. Would these songs work better as solo guitar songs (like Iron & Wine?) or do they succeed with the additions of strings, banjo and percussion? In most cases, yes, and quite well.

Horse Feathers aren't my kind of music whatsoever. Not to say that I don't enjoy a good folk band every now and then, but folk music is one of those genres that it's easy to sound like he's imitable. Only so many times can someone seem like a Bob Dylan suck-up or Iron & Wine, to the point that being an ambient band is hard not to get compared to Animal Collective or Aphex Twin to some extent. When a band does a genre successful, it's immediate that anything that sounds similar will be labeled impersonator, thus making their music fake.

Justin avoids these trap falls for the most part. Sure, some of the songs fall into this category and don't attempt to do anything with the genre but inhabit it, but the songs on here that excel at it are really worth the time to listen. Ringle's wavering falsetto is the strong point of the band that sets it apart, never has vulnerable sounded so real in folk music while still singing about a message. The album starts out strong enough and maintains well, even though "Rude to the Rile" never seems to get its building momentum going. "Working Poor" is an excellent banjo-laden track that accelerates with such subtly into a call-and-response, breaking down immediately and building back up again. "Albina" does a similar technique as well, the instruments on the album emphasizing the urgency in Ringle's lyrics.

The slow songs work too, as "Helen" and "Heathen's Kiss" prove. But overall there is a sense of laziness throughout the album, not on the band's part, but on an ability to expand this genre further. There are some really good songs on here that inhabit it quite well, but what hasn't been heard here before? Halfway through the album the music suffers and falls into background music category, which is a shame because the stuff on here is good enough. There is something that Horse Feathers has going and with each attempt I feel they will get there, but until then it's all genre and nothing breakout. That doesn't mean that they should do something crazy, but without one track that really illustrates what separates this band from the rest make it hard to hear what all the fuss is about. They'll get there.

Standout Track: "Working Poor"
Overall Rating: 7.5

Some fun facts not mentioned in the review:

* Justin Ringle's band are labeled as being from Portland, OR, which is true, but the guy was born and raised in Lewiston, ID. He simply moved to Portland in 2004 and would play under the moniker Horse Feathers until Peter Broderick heard his stuff and became another member as producer.

* Peter Broderick's other works include: Norfolk & Western, Dolorean, and Loch Lomond.

* Peter's sister, Heather, plays Cello on the records, but does not tour with the band.

* Singer Ringle doesn't intend that all lyrics are understood clearly, but has stated in interviews that he wants more to match mood than add clarity.

* Some more of Ringle on my favorite track, "Working Poor:" "I think in 'Working Poor,' for instance, the contrast between the words being about hardship, yet the music staying somewhat upbeat, kind of gives some sense of hope." Read more of an interview Here.

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