Filed under: Releases of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: Horse Feathers, Thistled Spring
PREVIEW: VISIT Horse Feathers’ MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 11/20 Watts
One would hope that an album entitled “Thistled Spring” would have at least have a few sharp edges to set it apart from the majority of today’s indie-folk. Unfortunately, Portland’s Horse Feathers – unfittingly named after the satirical 1932 Marx Brothers film – end up homogenized within the soft auditory mush of their contemporaries with little to set them apart in any notable way.
It’s not to say that Horse Feathers are incompetent or even mediocre when it comes to song-writing. In fact, a major merit of the band is that they avoid the trap of lazily marginalizing the use of “traditional” folk instruments. Unlike groups whose uses of the mandolin and banjo are limited to peripheral texturing, Horse Feathers get technically impressive and smoothly arranged melodies out of these demanding string instruments. The banjo and string parts on “Starving Robins” and “Cascades” pose a challenge to any hipster who’s ever attempted to pluck a few half-assed chords on his dad’s Gibson.
Additionally, the interchanges between which instruments carry the bulk of the melody are sufficiently varied song by song in such a way that benefits both the album’s control of dynamics and mood. Where “Belly of June” contains the album’s most directly ecstatic moments and “The Widower” slumps into minor-key ambiguity, the strings and guitar adjust accordingly. The problem is that variation of any kind on the album stops after this. The swells are competent but forumulaic. The interludes follow a similarly predictable formula. Justin Ringle’s sub-Sufjan whinging completes this lukewarm assembly of elements, leaving the album feeling like a collection of amateur watercolor paintings – individually competent, but collectively bland and unspectacular.
Horse Feathers are above-average in their instrumental proficiency. However, they do not break any ground within the realm of contemporary folk – a genre whose dependency on formula is just as bad as any Top 40 electro-thumping. In conclusion, “Thistled Spring” is a passable but predictable burp on the organic woodgrain screen of the indie-folk radar.