Horse Feathers is a surprisingly apt name for Justin Ringle’s outfit. Theirs is a painfully delicate sound, a delightful slab of Western Americana that at the same time manages to retain a certain sense of solidity and strength throughout. It is also infused with a West Country yearning: an aching call for nature and whispers of lost love.
Such was the strength of their early music that their debut release Words Are Dead actually found itself nominated for the Plug Awards �Americana Album of the Year’ (an obscure achievement some might argue, but an achievement nonetheless). House With No Home, the group’s second full length offering, is the next chapter.
It is a beautiful and often bleak album. Take record opener Curs In The Weeds for example. The track treads carefully through simplistic guitar, flowing string arrangements and infrequent but luscious harmonies to produce music that ebbs and flows effortlessly. There is a tangible rawness to Justin’s vocals; an aching, wistful quality that serves to provide an extra dimension to the already strong instrumental quality. But House With No Home does not lose sight of its folk roots at any point during its slow-paced warbling. Country rhythms and melodies dot the string accompaniments throughout and the opening of fifth track A Burden sounds like its come dancing straight out of Tolkien’s Shire.
However, it is attention to detail that really earns Horse Feather’s their points. The songs are expertly crafted. A great balance of textures, sweeping dynamic shifts and sparsely applied yet effective percussion are all used across a range of finely tuned, finely crafted and finely produced tracks. Even the repetitive melodies that crop up now and again seem intentional.
But House With No Home is certainly not without its darker moments. Father Reprive is dreary enough, a melancholy piano instrumental complete with background wail. However, never does the album sink lower than during Different Gray, a rain-soaked, monochrome affair where mournful strings, wavering vocal lines and sorrowfully simple piano chords combine to create the record’s saddest sound.
Furthermore there is an unsettling undercurrent to Horse Feathers’ latest release. You’ll think the wall is about to cave in when unidentifiable bumps and scrapes come careering through the dancing guitar rhythms of Rude To Rile, and fourth track Albina sees the brief but unnerving emergence of what can only be described as a sonic building site half way through. These soundscapes are often so fleeting you barely catch them before they pass. They are not evidence of a group wallowing in their own experimental pretentiousness. They are the finishing touches on an already admirable piece of work.
Indeed, it is details like these that help lift House With No Home to a higher and more complex level than most of its banjo tickling counterparts.