The Features: Wilderness

Kings Of Leon-affilitiated rockers try hard to create a classic - too hard, in fact.

The Features


Label: Serpents and Snakes
US Release Date: 2012-06-05
UK Release Date: Import

Some bands come and go in a nanosecond, never getting beyond the middling-results of a debut album they spent their whole lives writing, that no one wants to listen to. And there're bands like The Features – a bunch of guys who've spent their whole lives writing half a dozen albums that no one, seemingly, wants to listen to.

Actually, that's probably a tad harsh. After all, being signed to the Kings Of Leon-founded label Serpents & Snakes means the stars at least rate them. And "Lions" – their 2009 mini-hit and parent album Some Kind Of Salvation did make small waves in the UK and some parts of the US.

So why have things not taken off for The Features? Three albums (five, if you include the never-released efforts from their early days) in, endorsement by the Followills and a respectful nod from the British music press doesn't mean you're destined for greatness – but neither should it suggest your career will be blighted by obscurity. However, on Wilderness, it's not in what they're creating here – more the tools they use to do the job.

Let's take the aforementioned hit from a few years back, "Lions". It’s built on a sub-frame of "oh-oh-oh" harmonies, a yearning, earnest but sneakily tongue-in-cheek vocal – and a rousing, pounding beat. The fact that singer Matt Pelham's voice starts to grate shortly before the outro is overlooked thanks to the song's unassuming kookiness.

Now, compare that to a couple of the prime cuts from Wilderness, "Another One" and "How It Starts". The former is an exercise in trying to sing as understated as possible. Whilst the vocals are pared down, Wilderness is an album that strains under the weight of a band trying too hard to pack a punch, to deliver a hooky chorus, to sing and play with real meaning. Subsequently, in a forced effort to be understated "Another One"'s vocals end up sounded strained anyway. Before long, the song feels like it's lost its way a little.

"How It Starts" sees a determined beat underpin vocals that are far more earnest than those on "Lions" – at times Pelham must be straining so hard he's at risk of giving himself a hernia. The kookiness gone, this sounds like a band now completely aware of themselves.

As things progress, Wilderness flits from tracks that fall slightly short of being a convincing tune, to frankly baffling moments that don't do those vocals any favours at all. "Golden Comb" and "Fats Domino" are irrevocably dull alt-rock with rudimentary lyrics and nowhere to go. And with a swirling organ, an over-blown chorus and knock-about lines, "Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good" tries far too hard at being tongue-in-cheek, but ends up more egg on face. The Fratellis did this sort of thing, but they did it better.

The best thing here is "Rambo" – from the humming monks on the intro to the haunting, swirling and wonderfully skyscraping choruses. In those expanses between Pelham's lines it feels like a breath of fresh air. But it's just a taste of what The Features could be – what we really need is a full meal.

"Is this the beginning / Or is this the end?", asks album opener "Content". Well – it's highly likely that The Features will spend another ten or fifteen years banging out middling alt rock fodder. So it's probably neither. As long as someone's listening, chances are they'll still be with us.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.