Cinema lovers will recall Horse Feathers as being the name of a classic Marx Brothers film. You’ll find little zanyness in their Portland namesakes but you will instead be treated to a disc full of lush folk Americana with not a fake comedy moustache in sight.
Unlike Sufjan Stevens‘ ambitious idea/joke of trying to record an album inspired by every state in the USA, Horse Feathers seem to have plumped for the more achievable goal of covering each season instead and Thistled Spring is the follow-up to the wintry aspects of their previous LP, House With No Name. Like spring itself there seem to be some interesting sonic flowers blooming, but the real fruit has yet to blossom.
The title track opens the album by setting the tone beautifully; there are some wonderfully prominent strings and banjo playing. In addition Justin Ringle’s fragile vocals do a good job of complementing the multi-textured atmosphere. The album is steeped in an air of tentative heartbreak and beauty and this is carried on through highlight Belly Of June. The track Cascades is also worthy of a mention for its sublime eeriness and doing a sterling job of trying to capture the high standard set by over recent years by the likes of Bon Iver.
Thereafter the album seems to become a little stuck, and after the halfway point things start to sound too similar to what had gone before. It’s beautiful at times, very well produced and with strong instrumentation mixed perfectly; the trouble is that things are held on too even a keel with little variation in pace or space to experiment. In comparison to its peers the album becomes a workmanlike affair that ticks all the boxes it wants to, but doesn’t seem to want to stick its head above the parapet. Given such a limited range it’s hardly surprising that things start to feel a little derivative or repetitive before the album’s conclusion.
The lack of staying power is also an issue. This may be down to the choice in subject matter and tone but there’s little on this disc that makes a real impact on the listener. It’s disappointing that even with all this potential that you’d be hard pressed to remember most of the album once it’s finished. You’ll remember that it sounded good, but you won’t remember how it sounded and even several plays fail to bestow “grower” status on this disc. Thistled Spring this may be, but a romp through a thistle patch should leave you feeling a little stung at least.
Yet the band’s talents are clearly evident, and summer is presumably around the corner. It’s this season that may well find Horse Feathers hitting their stride; until then, having a spring in their step will have to do.