Review Summary: Feathergun is a sign that Rishloo was maturing and nearing their peak. I personally believe that a follow-up to this record would have been something truly special.
If there's one thing I appreciate in music, it's a good melody. Melody is everywhere to be found on Rishloo's third and final album "Feathergun", and at times their music is as melodic and beautiful as alt/prog rock can get. Pedal-inflected bass lines and thumping drum beats provide the skeleton that contains the album's heart and soul, the guitar and vocals. They intertwine perfectly, forming some truly unforgettable performances on what is arguably the band's best work. However, Feathergun's formula of soaring melody upon soaring melody may have taught me that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
The album opens with a wave of pulsating electronics and unstable keyboards before Andrew, our insanely talented vocalist, steps in and begins singing on what is probably the band's best song, "Scissorlips". The band's lyrics are not based so much on narrative but instead imagery, forming some very vivid pictures in the listener's head while Andrew powerfully wails about chewing paper fingertips and forking the tongues of the old and young. Also notable are the twangy and deep guitar effects and remarkably produced bass tone. The bass quietly but noticeably hums below everything while Tyler the drummer carries the band through several tempo changes and a sudden time signature switch for the song's loud, outstanding close. "Scissorlips" provides a sign of what's to come on Feathergun. The beautiful but powerful vocals, deeply moving guitar parts, and solid rhythm section all leave the listener wanting more, and Rishloo is happy to oblige.
Despite how the record mainly relies on Andrew's vocals and ethereal melodies to carry its weight, it is also able to leave some breathing room for the band to change their style every so often. "Downhill", the album's eight-minute centerpiece, trudges through a tense downtempo section before picking up the pace and suddenly coming to a halt with a jarring piano break. This all happens before the song is even halfway finished. And then there are tracks like "Keyhole In The Sky", which masquerades around as an undulating ballad for 4 minutes before abruptly segueing into a trumpet solo backed by programmed drums. Stylistically, the album is like a chameleon. A chameleon can change colors, but it never turns into a different creature entirely. Feathergun can appear that it is an ever-changing conglomerate of musical ideas, but at its heart is still a rock album made by 4 aspiring friends from Washington who aren't trying to do anything earth-shattering, just write good songs with memorable melodies.
Disregard what I said in the last sentence of the above paragraph for a moment, for there is one moment where the album throws melody out the window and favors abrasiveness and anger for a split second. "Turning Sheep Into Goats" begins innocently enough, with a crystalline guitar hook and by some impressive cymbal work from Tyler and Andrew's insane vocal range driving the pulse of the tune. However, when the song transitions into the chorus, the band takes a 180 and smothers the guitar in filthy distortion. Tyler begins pounding on his drums like an animal, and Andrew goes plain ballistic. He laments that you "got just what you wanted" and utters profanities in a manner that's almost frightening before a gruff voice shouts at the top of its lungs, "are you happy now"" A tribal drum roll on the floor tom then leads us back into the verse riff like nothing ever happened. Now that is effective songwriting. "Feathergun In The Garden Of The Sun" is somewhat similar, but the entire song is loud and uptempo, as opposed to the sludgy and slow heavy section in "Turning Sheep"
Other notable positives about this album include how the band can be restrained but also show their skill at the right time ("Systematomatic") and their atmospheric, deep electronic segments ("Scissorlips", "Weevil Bride"). A 3-minute lull of ambience closes out "Weevil Bride" and the album itself and shows Rishloo's capability of setting a delicate, breezy mood. However, due to a certain songwriting technique that the band uses on this album, this mood can sometimes be wrecked. Firstly, Andrew is an incredibly gifted vocalist. Anyone who has listened to one non-instrumental Rishloo song knows this. The previous sentence helps me prove my point, which is that Andrew's gift is utilized a bit too much when compared to how gifted everyone else in the band is as well. The rhythm section only gets "Systematomatic" as a chance to really prove what they're made of (this song is probably the most technical on the record), and even that song has Andrew at the forefront, belting out the lyrics as if his life depended on it. While his voice can drive certain songs into amazing territory (the first two tracks especially) there are points where I wish he could be more subdued, such as on "Diamond Eyes". He is subdued enough for the first minute, quietly crooning "we are not machines" while my favorite guitar hook on the whole record drives the song. However, when we get to the chorus, Andrew's voice overshadows everything interesting about this hook. I have to stop what I'm doing and listen extremely closely to hear what else is going on in the track, because if one were listening casually, Andrew's voice would be what stayed with them. Everything else would go through one of the listener's ears and out the other.
Feathergun's greatest strength is how fun it is to listen to. If the listener is really paying attention, Andrew's omnipresent vocal shredding won't be all they get from the listening experience. The album is incredibly deep sonically. Segments such as the end of "Turning Sheep Into Goats" or the ending of "River Of Glass" contain layers of sound buried deep in the mix that only add to the songs' strong personality and emotional depth. And then there's the ambient section that ends the album. It can be a chore to get through sometimes, but its sonic palette is very immersive and not skipping to the end is a reward to the listener. In conclusion, Feathergun is a sign of a band that was maturing and nearing their peak. Unfortunately, Rishloo broke up last year and we will not be able to see what the band could have done with a fourth album. However, I will be pleased to see what they do with their new incarnation, The Ghost Apparatus.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best song)
Turning Sheep Into Goats
Feathergun In The Garden Of The Sun