Review Summary: Horse Feathers keep soothing souls with their unhurried, threadbare take on indie-folk.
Horse Feathers’ work has always contained a mixture of conflicting emotions. From the elegant and lush strings to the underlying sense of turmoil, each album has taken polar opposite moods and harmonized them. While their lyrics suggest depression or isolation, the music surrounds its listeners with stripped-down rural folk that is so serene you almost can’t help but sink into your favorite couch cushion and sip on some hot cocoa. Thus, it comes bearing a lot of questions worth asking…does this band create warm, inviting albums or ones that are full of angst and glum introspection? Is frontman Justin Ringle filling us with his love or is he composing massive, tragic symphonies one release at a time? The answer to this question may actually lie in Cynic’s New Year
, where Ringle proclaims, “beauty and loss, they are one and the same” – a notion indicating that Horse Feathers’ fourth studio album is a conscious attempt to fuse the two into something that is simultaneously gorgeous and melancholic.
To an extent, Horse Feathers succeed. Cynic’s New Year
is a delicate but sprawling record, slowly revealing its musical and lyrical depth as it unravels one track at a time. The sincerity put forth in songs such as ‘Last Waltz’ and ‘Nearly Old Friends’ is undeniable, presenting stunningly picturesque atmospheres comparable to Bon Iver and acoustic passages similar to the earliest works of Iron & Wine. There is also a deliberate patience that causes the album to plod along like a horse-drawn carriage, which isn’t always a bad thing. On ‘Better Company’ - easily Cynic’s New Year
’s best song and perhaps Horse Feathers’ greatest achievement altogether - the slow progression that characterizes most of the record glows with a newfound sense of purpose. The band’s swelling strings have never sounded more poignant, and Ringle’s falsetto vocals finally reach the same caliber as the instrumentation. The result is a rustic gem of a folk song that should haunt listeners all the way to their “best of 2012” lists. Even when Cynic’s New Year
’s best moments come to an end, they linger with a resounding echo of satisfaction, helping to color the less impressive tracks in between while resulting in a more cohesive experience.
The primary drawback here is that even though the album does occasionally ascend to great heights, it spends at least the same amount of time strolling through monotonous buildups that never really reach their destinations. What’s worse is that the majority of these moments come in the first half of Cynic’s New Year
, an unfortunate track placement that could turn off less patient listeners before the far more impressive second half. ‘A Heart Arcane’, while pleasant enough, sounds too much like ‘So Long’ and ‘Where I’ll Be’ – all of which utilize similar progressions and identical sounding strings that power their way to the forefront of the mix, drowning out a lot of other contributions in the acoustic guitar and vocal departments. Luckily, some of the tedium is overshadowed by Ringle’s thoughtful lyrics – but even they aren’t enough to hide the lack of variation that exists on Cynic’s New Year
. This isn’t a new problem for Horse Feathers, considering that their slow, drawn-out approach and stripped-down instrumentation has always lent their albums a cyclical feel. Nevertheless, it is an issue that needs rectifying if they are ever to create something in a different vein; because right now they are relying on the same formula as they did with Thistled Spring
, House With No Home
, and Words Are Dead
. Eventually the novelty will wear out, which would be a real shame considering how Horse Feathers currently stands out amongst a sea of indecipherable peers.
In the end, Cynic’s New Year
ends up being a typical Horse Feathers album. Of course, that’s pretty much ubiquitously a compliment, although it leaves a void to be filled for their next endeavor. For those of you who embrace the minimalist philosophy “less is more”, the hushed nature of this album will find a permanent place in your rotation. However, for those hoping that this would be Horse Feathers’ breakthrough album, you will be kept waiting for a least a little while longer. As of now, Cynic’s New Year
gives us yet another enjoyable release from one of the most consistent indie-folk acts around.