The Felice Brothers 2024
Photo: Caitlin Greene / Missing Piece Group

The Felice Brothers Seek Company in the ‘Valley of Abandoned Songs’

The Felice Brothers present us with a world where we can sing along with our imaginations and know we are all brothers and sisters on life’s journey.

Valley of Abandoned Songs
The Felice Brothers
Million Stars
28 June 2024

The title of the Felice Brothers‘ latest release, Valley of Abandoned Songs, accurately describes its contents. The songs were originally written for their two previous albums, 2019’s Undress and 2023’s Asylum on the Hill, but did not make the final cut because they didn’t quite fit in with the other material. The tracks seem to belong here because they concern the lives of oddball loners who don’t fit in with others. It’s their shared incongruity that binds them. Their protagonists may be weird. The individual cuts do not always make cohesive sense. The verses don’t always match up. The songs come off more as pastiches than finished pieces. They are “abandoned” in the sense of being reckless as well as deserted from previous collections.

That’s why the results are so charming, even if the songs frequently concern unpleasant situations in which the characters find themselves. They don’t feel sorry for themselves, so why should we? There’s the “Crime Scene Queen” who is part film noir femme fatale, part sci-fi goddess, and part murderess; the bum on the highway watching the cars go by and appreciating his own inertia and the “Flowers by the Roadside”; the wet footed fool in paradise with all of its vices on display praising “New York by Moonlight”, and that’s just the first three songs!

The tracks become more complex in their absurdity as Valley of Abandoned Songs proceeds. By midway, the descriptions are Bob Dylanesque and weird even as the musical accompaniment becomes more folklike in tales such as “Black Is My True Loves Hair”, “Birdies”, and “Racoon, Rooster, and Crow”. These fables direct the listener to look inward at their own faults and find the stories’ lessons.

Valley of Abandoned Songs finishes with morality tales with poetic names such as “Let Me Ride Away with the Horsemen” and “It’s Midnight and the Doves Are in Tears”, whose emotional truths eclipse their imagery. The singer croons nursery rhyme-style lyrics such as “Science and progress what have you done” over a chorus of “la las” and a wheezing accordion while describing the horrors of war. The echoes of World War I float in the background as the assumption is it has been this way for a while, and things have only gotten worse. The final cut offers hope. “To Be a Papa” suggests we do have each other. We may not be able to trust ourselves, but we can try.

The Felice Brothers hail from the Catskill, New York area and consist of brothers Ian (guitar/lead vocals) and James (keyboard/vocals), Jesske Hume (bass), and Will Lawrence (drums). They have a shaggy dog appeal, by which I mean that the vocals and instruments sometimes go off-key, the players occasionally perform at different tempos, and they don’t always come in at the right moment. Valley of Abandoned Songs was based on the original demos. It is unclear what production (if any) was added, although one can clearly hear orchestration on some cuts. The album notes suggest that Ian originally wanted to post these songs on their website because he thought they were too good to be lost, but that singer-songwriter Conor Oberst heard them and thought so highly of the material that he decided to use them as the first release on his newly founded record label, Million Stars.

Valley of Abandoned Songs offers a whistling-through-the-graveyard approach to contemporary life. We are all at fault through no fault of our own. The Felice Brothers present us with a world where we can sing along with our imaginations and know we are all brothers and sisters on the journey to whatever comes next.

RATING 7 / 10