Playin' in a Mystery Band
I like The Features. I like them quite a lot, actually. I thoroughly enjoy their new EP entitled The Beginning. It has five nice songs that have an old Sixties-like quality about them. I just don’t know who they are, really. I mean, the CD label says the band features Roger Dabbs, Rollum Haas, Matt Pelham, and Parrish Yaw, but it doesn’t tell me who sings or plays what instrument. Furthermore, a visit to the band’s website yields nothing but a photo of the band with the message “Coming Soon”, along with a little place to enter your email address if you’d like updates about the site.
So here we are. No press info, not even an easy find on the search engines. In fact, I didn’t find The Features. An exact match search for “The Features” and “The Beginning” yielded over 13,000 matches, none of them (from what I personally plowed through) having to do with this CD. Like I said, I really enjoy this disc, so it makes me just a tiny bit sad that I can’t offer more than just a rundown on the tunes. But I suppose that will have to suffice this time around. So here he we go.
The cover art for the disc shows the band and various friends sitting under a tree. A couple of them are holding babies in their laps. Childbirth plays a significant lyrical role in a couple of the songs here. Or at least brining children into the world does. If that sounds a little unlike your typical “rock” sort of subject matter, then I suppose you’d be correct. Sounds like a mellow Seventies nightmare, doesn’t it? Well luckily for us, The Features have more in common with the likes of Ray Davies than they do, say, James Taylor.
“I saw you kicking one another in the head / So I called upon the doctor, and the doctor said / ‘What am I supposed to do? / There isn’t one inside, but two / And there’s only so much room inside a mother’s womb’”, go some of the words for the opening track, “Stark White Stork Approaching”. Musically, the tune is rather simple, featuring a strummed acoustic guitar in one channel and a thin sounding organ in the other. The singer (should I assume it’s Dabbs—again, without any info, I hate to be wrong about such things) chucks in a few catchy “ba-ba-bas” before the song is over and things start to kick in in earnest on “Walk You Home”.
This track has a rather loose garage rock feel to it, with an Attractions-like (as in Elvis Costello and the) organ pumping along happily. In fact, the whole thing would sound just like the grand old Declan MacManus if it weren’t for those horns that chime in every now and then, causing the song to take a sort of Borscht belt turn into campiness. But it works well, as the choruses stomp along into Kinks-ish territory circa Face to Face. It’s an oddball tune, but thoroughly enjoyable as it completely strips away any of the previous song’s hippie-ish pretenses. Neat and sweet.
“Bumble Bee” continues the Ray Davies sound, with acoustic guitar, small string section, and brushed drums. Child-like “la la las” soon creep in, and I have to give anyone points for using the phrase “peachy keen” in their song. During the latter half of the tune, “Stark White Stork Approaching” reprises, and honestly it sounds a lot better in the “Bumble Bee” setting. Less frenzied and more pleasurable, don’t you know? But don’t get too relaxed, as the title track (subtitled “week one”) careens back into heavy garage rock once more with the wailing organ. It appears that The Features want to woo you and then abuse you. It works like a dream. Tell them they have succeeded if you see them on the street.
The final track, “Two By Two” mixes the Elvis Costello and the Ray Davies influences into one heady stew as the rhythm stomps and the melodies couldn’t have come from anywhere else other than 30 years back or so. “Two by two they came / Things will never be the same” goes the chorus, echoing the birth of twins again perhaps. Ah, it’s all just strange. Rockin’ out to baby births and all. I mean, yes it’s joyous, but who’d have thought it would have made such dandy rock? Well, The Features certainly have a fan in me if no one else.
I would go out on a limb and say this band hails from Nashville, but I’m not even sure of that. The sleeve lists a Nashville address, but then right next to it, it says the disc was made in Canada. Damn you, Features! You are cloaked in mystery and it’s just not right when your music is as good as this. I’m turning on the distress beacon. Contact me with more of your grooves if you are receiving. In the meantime, all you lovely readers out there should give this one a listen as well. Clearly The Beginning is one of the more original things I’ve heard this year, as well as one of the more delightfully (and accessibly) strange.