Horse Feathers Horse FeathersThistled Spring
In folk circles, talking about classical music (or “cultured” or “erudite,” as some insist on calling it now) gets you up to your knees in mud, running the risk of being an artist who is a birthday cake that not even the blindest palates can swallow, instead of a feeling artist wtih a heart open for whoever wants gain nourishment. Justin Ringle is the one responsible for taking the bull by the horns, daring to roll up the sheet of plastic (the kind of plastic without those little bubbles to pop) and make the bet of the month: can someone as sweet as Ringle add double basses, violas and violins to the mix and get away with it? Answer: what happens to us with the latest from Horse Feathers is the same thing that will happen if we tell someone not to think of a pink elephant. They won’t be able not to.
In spite of this, the beauty and lyrical depression reinforce a majestic, diaphanous sound that deep down becomes addictive, like what happened a while ago with Edison Woods or Dakota Suite. Put on the album and you won’t realise when it has finished. It doesn’t bother you. It is well-defined, quality folkie-country piped music. The orchestral mix with the piano will always be a good choice (“ Thistled Spring”) and we can add country colour to the whole with some good banjos (“ Starving Robins”). This is a record that knows that it is getting into a muddy swamp with the orchestration, and tries to make a go of it at all cost by changing gears (“ Belly Of June” shifts into fourth gear, while “ Cascades” is in second and idle) and by using overproduction to give more vigour to a songbook that really suffers from not knowing whether to abandon itself to the orchestral muses or to lean towards the light side of the noise that a band like Horse Feathers can make. We hear a series of instrumental progressions in “ The Drought,” “ Vermonia Blues,” and “ The Widower” that don’t go anywhere (they don’t break our heart in crescendo nor do they delight us aesthetically). What’s more, at times they break promising fits - in “ Cascades” an atonal turn like those of Nina Nastasia would have been nice, in “ This Bed” the intimacy is broken like a poorly-fried egg, and in “ The Widower” the Jeff Buckley aromas are as unsustainable as more progression is desirable. For all of this, Ringle sings as if he were sewing, little by little and as smooth as velvet, but without leaving the only register that his voice seems to feel certain in. At times he tries to fly over the oasis of peace that is “Thistled Spring” (in “ The Drought,” for example), but it seems like there must be someone in the recording studio—who knows, maybe Ringle himself, or a fascist muse, or one of the main characters of his songs (a dolls with a broken heart?) who is only interested in wallowing in pain, a pain that (to be fair) is also attractive, although it is lacking loquacity.
Why listen to it then? Well: they promise what they offer (from the very cover of the album, a photograph of branches and leaves shot from below, edged with menacing shadows). They are too adorable. They’re harmless. It might seem like too dramatic a resource to some. But break-up stories have always existed and have broken many a box-office. There must be some reason for it. Jordi Guinart