Album Review: Horse Feathers – Cynic’s New Year
by JJ McCabe
Those familiar with Horse Feathers’ previous album, Thistled Spring, may share my surprise through “A Heart Arcane,” the opening track of Cynic’s New Year– its stripped-down, dry, live sound and the absence of strings seems like a curious backward step from the lush, orchestral grace and delicacy of the last album. However, that aesthetic gives way to an Appalachian tinged chamber waltz that builds to a foot-stomping urgency and a more forceful vocal delivery then I’d previously heard from Justin Ringle. This push continues through the rest of the album, culminating in the single “Fit Against the Country,” which evokes early Neil Young filtered through the rustic Americana of the Pacific Northwest.
Much more so then on earlier outings, Ringle here gives the vocal arrangements the same attention that the rightly lauded string accompaniment received on past albums. His delicate Nick Drake-evoking voice benefits from more harmonies and the more driving aesthetic to these songs. I would go so far as to say that this is Horse Feathers’ rock album – which is to say it is still delicate, with gossamer banjo and mandolin plucks weaving through gorgeous violin and cello arrangements, but whereas Thistled Spring at times was so delicate and precise that the songs seemed in danger of collapsing into breathy silence, here a hearty confidence brings a strength to the performances. I was lucky to catch them the last time they came through town at a sold out Crepe Place performance, and Cynic’s New Year definitely captures the feel of their live performance – complex, dynamic yet warm, at times quietly insistent, and always engaging.