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At 4:15 PM each Tuesday, WERS brings you our On The Verge segment which highlights an artist we think is up-and-coming. This week’s artist On The Verge is Portland based indie folk band Horse Feathers whose fourth full-length album, Cynic’s New Year, is out now.
Folk band Horse Feathers stopped by WERS to perform a few tracks off their new album, Cynic’s New Year. The group puts out a new album every two years, and Cynic’s New Year is no exception. While this regularity seems like a plan, frontman Justin Ringle says it’s a result of their touring. “It wasn’t any master scheme,” he laughed. “It ends up we tour for a year and a half and then I come up with the ideas for the next record while we’re out there. It’s funny because the previous record’s material is off my mind while we’re on tour [for that album].”
Their live sound when on tour is always a bit different than their records, though. Ringle goes out of his way to rearrange material for a new flavor. With two violins, a cello, drums, and a guitar, the group added more power this time around to their normal comforting sound. They began with “Fit Against the Country,” a track that clearly annunciates its meaning with the violins brought into the forefront. Ringle fiddled with his acoustic guitar before snapping its neck upright as the drums joined with soft female backing vocals. The song sounded like a piece by The Decemberists, minus Colin Meloy’s voice. Although softer, Ringle’s voice lures you in more than Meloy’s, his quiet annunciation and hazy tone more effective in the long run.
Cynic’s New Year was something Ringle “came up with early on” in the game. “It was a departure point for a lot of themes on the record,” he explained, noting that it isn’t overly cynical. A lot of the tracks were recorded at their house which explains the homey feeling their tracks gave off when played in the studio.
“Where I’ll Be” had a strong cello presence even while the contrast between the bright piano keys and the warm held-out strings swam beside one another in the lake Ringle’s voice made.
The violins and cello no doubt were what made this song, a subtle difference when played alongside piano and guitar. “We arranged these songs with strings really early on in the process – that’s how we like to do it,” Ringle said. “I was tired of competing with rock bands.” Instead, his inspiration draws from icons such as Nick Drake and Fred Neil.
It can be easy to pass off Horse Feathers as another folk band, but the group have a subtly about them that makes them stand out farther down the road. It’s the emotions buried beneath the notes that are notable. “For me, music has this role of being more abstract than painting or watching a movie,” Ringle said. “It has a way of being more emotive than all the other types of media. What makes music important is that it can affect you in a primal way, and there are so many different types of moods and feelings that it can capture.”