Music

Horse Feathers' Metamorphosis From Americana Constructionists to Country-Rock Band Is Complete

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Anchored by strong songwriting and an evolving sonic palette, Horse Feathers turn in yet another solid record with Appreciation.

Appreciation
Horse Feathers

Kill Rock Stars

4 May 2018

Few bands are more dependable than Portland's Horse Feathers. Twelve years in, they've pumped out six good-to-great LPs, including their most recent, Appreciation. This consistency is even more noteworthy considering that the band has been in flux since day one. They've seesawed from two members to 11 to now five. Their themes have shifted along with their lineup. And their sound has steadily evolved from a strict back-country Americana to something that fits organically within the PNW folk-rock scene. Every album has seen them edging closer to the Decemberists and further from the Avett Brothers.

On Appreciation, their fifth release on Kill Rock Stars, this transformation continues. Plucking, picking, and fiddling - and the dark, insular songwriting of Thistled Spring and Cynic's New Year - are long gone. That's not to say that Justin Ringle's distinct vocals and Nathan Crockett's violin aren't still a steady presence, but the dynamics have shifted. Major keys abound. Joslyn Hampton's backing vocals make the compositions feel wider. A soulful rhythm section adds momentum. Drums and bass are often front and center, like on the excellent '70s-rock facsimile "Without Applause" or "Best to Leave", and piano features regularly. Tinkling keys add depth to "Born in Love" while heavy chords lend heft to the opening of "Altamont".

To put this shift into perspective: their last record, So It Is With Us, was notable for including drums at all. The sheer scope of this change brings to mind Iron & Wine, which started as an outlet for Sam Beam to sing dusty songs about dry creeks and aging dogs. But by 2013, he'd recorded Ghost on Ghost, a jazz-folk odyssey that stands out as a bold, evolutionary moment in his catalog.

A helpful reference for where Horse Feathers' sound now resides is in the country-pop scene of the 1970s. "Without Applause" evokes Three Dog Night or CCR. "Altamont", its name a nod to that era, has a driving country strum. On "The Hex", loose drum fills and echo effects on the vocals give the impression of a live recording from a crowded university concert hall where the students wear ties and sit politely during the performance. Even the album cover - an unfiltered close-up of Ringle's face, presumably onstage, with a spotlight behind him - evokes 1970s LP cover art. The kind of record cover Jim Croce or John Denver or Eric Clapton would have used.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that Horse Feathers has evolved expertly, and Appreciation is a case study in artistic growth. It's undeniably Horse Feathers, but it's also a unique entry in their catalog. Six records deep, that's hardly news. At this point, it'd only be newsworthy if they somehow made a bad record.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.

Television

Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.

Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Books

'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Music

Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.

Music

Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.

Music

Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.

Music

Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.

Music

Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.

Music

DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.

Music

The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.

Music

Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.