[24 June 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Feathers is an all-female four-piece from Austin, Texas. If you’re expecting a scrappy rock band, based on that small bit of information, think again. It’s better to think of Feathers as the band who has played in front of Depeche Mode, because that is much closer to the torch they are carrying. On their debut album, If All Now Here, Feathers give us 10 unabashed day-glo electro-pop songs. It doesn’t blend elements of rock music or even much in the way of organic instrumentation. Instead, it just overwhelms with its shiny size. It’s an impressive scope for a band who only formed back in 2011, though sometimes that scope comes off as a lack of focus.
The sharp four-note repetition that opens “Land of the Innocent”, the album’s first song, sets up the kind of mesmerizing repetition at the heart of these songs. It’s bolstered by an industrial, spacious beat, and the two – coupled with shuffling low synths and steady bass – create an expanse for Anastasia Dimou’s voice, itself treated to sound sweet and buffed to a blinding shine like the music around it. The difference there, though, is that under all the studio sheen you can hear the pulse of Dimou’s voice, the organic beauty of it, so when she breaths out lines like “You rescue me, I’ll rescue you” you feel the connection – or disconnection – in those lines. There’s a feeling there beyond the immediate hit of music.
Dimou’s voice pulls this trick – injecting the production with something deeper than pop bliss – more than once on the record. Here fragile singing on “Night Seances” is both dreamy and restless. “I can’t just sit through everything,” she says, and you can feel both immediacy and fatigue. Later, when she repeats “and the leaves start trembling on the ground” in the moody “Leaves Start Trembling”, her voice is far more hypnotic than any repeating electro-beat could hope to be.
But If All Here Now is, as its title implies, much more interested in the present, in this very moment and the sound you hear in it, than in the ripples that sound might make or the words it might shape into. And so you get the neon heft of “Soft” or the plodding, bloated shuffle of “Dark Matter”, which presents itself as a departure here – something closer to dancehall music – but that shift is only a surface-level shuffle, as the rest of the structure falls in line with the rest of the record. “Fire in the Night” is a more interesting shift, repurposing (intentionally or not) a jock-jam stomp into the band’s bright sound. But once that beat is established, it never really goes anywhere, the repetition of their sound becoming, finally, not a meditation or a cyclical rediscovery, but a hindrance.
And so despite all the bombast and expanse of this sound, despite its commendable production and flawless execution, If All Now Here is an album that ends up hiding it’s most compelling elements – the emotions that bubble up in Dimou’s voice, the glassy-eyed, lost-in-a-moment feel of the lyrics – in a far-too-devoted love of electronic pop excess. These songs are gaudy and daring, but they’re gaudy and daring in ways we heard 20 and 30 years ago. There’s a distinct personality under all this sound, or there could be, and Feathers has time to discover that, but as it stands, all these slick layers end up – more often than not – as little more than convincing ventriloquism.