Review Summary: You know those guys that play the same role in every movie? Well yeah, it's sort of like that.
After 3 EP's and 3 full length efforts, it's becoming fairly obvious that The Features will never make a masterpiece of an indie record. It's frustrating, almost, for this to be so very evident by this point in their careers. But the fact of the matter is simple: The Features have pretty much always been the Matt Pelham show, and all signs point to their frontman's inexorable status as a one-trick pony. That being said, pumping out consistently above-average indie rock records on a yearly basis is a pretty nifty little ploy. However, Pelham will not be providing us with the next In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
anytime soon, and it's quite likely that his musical troupe will forever reside in the shadow of southern rock contemporaries and former tour-mates Manchester Orchestra
- but is that really such a bad thing? Besides, who wouldn't seek out the shady comfort of a gargantuan leafy ash tree in the hot Tennessee sun? Perhaps one shouldn't look upon Mr. Pelham as a middle-of-the-road musician, but instead as an intelligent and opportunistic surveyor of the musical art. Seriously… playing for Andy Hull's sold out crowds every night? Six major releases? These guys can't be doing that much wrong, right?
Putting equivocation to rest, The Features aren't doing too
much wrong. Wilderness
, their latest full-length release, is sprinkled with noteworthy moments that carry the distinctive Pelham flair. "Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good", for one, has my personal nomination for catchiest chorus of 2011. The track is the perfect embodiment of what there is to love about these guys - stripped down, edgy indie jams accompanied by the frontman's crooning southern drawl. It's bold, it's impassioned, and it's exactly the sort of tune that has their fans in the U.K. going buck-wild. Or take "Golden Comb", another example of a quintessential Features track. Spaced-out synths build and fall atop a rolling drumbeat, while tremolo guitar and Pelham's strained vocals duke it out for audience attention, finally coming to an end in a dissonant and spooky finish. With their high-octane choruses and ingeniously simple melodies, such tracks call to mind former hit "Lions" or even their premier singalong number in "Blow It Out", and boy are the memories sweet. Point is: when The Features shine, they shine brightly.
Where they fail to glisten, however, is where mediocrity takes hold. Pelham's voice in "Fats Domino", a song named after one of the more prevalent R&B singer/songwriters of the 1950's, rings a little too true as he sings, "I've done my best to give you love/ I understand that ain't enough.
" Try as they might, The Features fall victim to their own shortcomings, those being centered around a heap of rudimentary lyricism and a lack of musical innovation. Though they make an effort to change things up, with an increased focus on synth evident right from track one, the result just isn't enough to catapult them out from the shadows. As intriguing as it is to listen to these guys donning their dream-pop gloves for the final minute of "Love Is…", it just felt more right hearing about Pelham's steel-toed rubber boots and honey bun back on "The Temporary Blues". And just like that, as effortlessly as night becomes day, Pelham and his crew march out just as they arrived and, in doing so, confirm my suspicions that although a groundbreaking record is beyond their reach, a fantastic Greatest Hits album is not.