Published May 14, 2018Horse Feathers are probably the best band you're not currently listening to. If the Portland, OR-based folk-country outfit aren't on your radar yet, start with 2014's So It Is With Us, an expansive, lush, melodic masterpiece, and work your way backwards to 2006's gentle waltz, Words Are Dead.
Appreciation, the band's sixth album and fifth on Kill Rock Stars, was four years in the making. Justin Ringle, the band's lead singer and songwriter, took 18 months off between 2012's Cynic's New Year and So It Is With Us to reinvent his sound after four albums of melancholy and muted minimalism. Following this latest hiatus, Ringle and the band are more upbeat and extroverted than ever.
Look no further than the first three tracks — "Without Applause," "Born in Love" and "Best to Leave" — which radiate energy and verve, despite the serious subject matter. Make no mistake: the songwriting is still Ringle's interior drama set to music, and at a basic level, the songs on Appreciation are sombre tales of ordinary people and their struggles, told in Ringle's halting voice.
But the full-band effort here is fuller yet, with a new rhythm section and more strings. On tracks like "Don't Mean to Pry," "Evictions" and "On the Rise," violins aren't front and centre, but provide a weighty emotional subtext; elsewhere (on "The Hex," for example) the strings captivate and uplift alongside some fantastic drumming.
The arrangements are beautiful, borderline orchestral, and contribute to an expanding Horse Feathers soundscape. While the mood that Ringle is trying to strike with these ten tracks belies easy definition, what's clear is that Horse Feathers are forging a new way forward. (Kill Rock Stars)