The Features have been striving for recognition since they self-released their self-titled EP back in 1997. Further releases, including their debut album Exhibit A, saw the band gain more exposure – something helped by regular opening slots for Kings Of Leon. The band’s 2008 album Some Kind Of Salvation was also self-released, until the Kings stepped in, and they became the first act to sign for their new label Serpents & Snakes. At this point they must have thought it was an instant route to success after years of hard toil. In reality, it has not been so straightforward.
Despite their famous backers The Features still remain relatively unknown. It doesn’t stop them from trying, though, and they are back once more with their third effort, entitled Wilderness. But the question is, does the album see The Features finally move out from the shadow of you know who?
It seems to be a question that the band are also considering, as Matt Pelham sings on opener Content: “Is this the beginning, or is this the end?” over a thumping beat and quirky riff. The song is an understated opening to the album and one that lacks any punch or direction. It’s followed by Kids, which makes up for the fairly sedate opening with a dirty riff and chugging bass working together in perfect harmony with Pelham’s throaty vocals. In fact, it doesn’t sound too dissimilar to The Black Keys – another American rock band who have found great success in the UK over the last few years.
How It Starts is one of the stronger cuts from Wilderness, with biting guitar riffs, a funky underlying bassline and Pelham’s ferocious vocals. Plus, it’s one of the few songs that doesn’t sound like its trying too hard. Elsewhere, Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good is clearly an attempt to mimic early Kings Of Leon, while Golden Comb emphasises the band’s try-hard ethic, with a big, unfurling chorus and howling vocals. Then there’s Fats Domino, which appears to be from a completely different album altogether, as Pelham croons: “Cause I’m not standing on your toes, my love/ you can have everything except my rock n’ roll, my love.”
The Features clearly have a lot of potential, but then again, that is something which has been said about them for many years now. The main problem with their latest album is that by trying to cram in so many different ideas and styles, there is no real cohesion between tracks. Wilderness doesn’t sound like a band who feel confident and know what direction they want to take. Rambo is an example of what The Features can do when they get it right, with an expansive chorus and superbly addictive riff. But then Another One sees the band virtually take on the sound of Cold War Kids.
It’s pretty difficult to listen to The Features’ latest LP and not see comparisons with a host of other American bands who are already doing what they’re doing – but better. And that is the crux of the problem for the four-piece. They may have been around for a while, but The Features have never managed to make a record to get them recognised in the same way Kings Of Leon, The Black Keys or Cold War Kids have done. Overall, Wilderness is a solid, but unspectacular album from a band that are desperate to make it. Unfortunately, that desperation tells in the fragmented final outcome.