The Felice Brothers
Asylum On The Hill


3.8
excellent

Review

by Sowing STAFF
December 29th, 2023 | 20 replies


Release Date: 12/15/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The palm trees are burning, and the rent is due

The Felice Brothers became one of my favorite folk/country acts in 2021 when From Dreams to Dust was released. It was the ideal blend of existentialism and wit in a way that made the idea of death seem a little more tolerable; hopeful, even. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the band’s next release would be highly anticipated by this reviewer, and after a two year break, they’re back with the strangely beautiful Asylum On The Hill. It’s a release that sees The Felice Brothers continue to explore their peculiar whims, often in ways that are underpinned by deeper and darker realizations.

Asylum doesn’t flow as neatly as its predecessor, or feel as unified atmospherically. Instead, it almost aligns itself with the album’s title: it’s a bit haphazard and unpredictable. To open the record, we get the mysterious and breathtaking ‘Candy Gallows’, a poetic track that depicts a conversation between the narrator and a woman he met in a graveyard: “She said ‘Your highness, Thomas Aquinas, is god as unhappy as we?’ / I said ‘Ms. Gallows, our human sorrows, just like our lives, are flickering and brief’ / ‘The life hereafter’, I said with laughter, ‘is like the radiance when a storm cloud lifts’ / She said ‘Your highness, Thomas Aquinas, wouldn't God die, if death were such a gift?’” The way the song slowly and gorgeously unravels is in stark contrast to how ‘Strawberry Blonde’ bounces along jauntily, almost a Crane Wife era Decemberists tune at heart, delivering the album’s most potent dose of ear candy while hiding its latent anxiety behind verses like, “the palm trees are burning / the babies are crying, and the rent is due”. The juxtaposition of ‘Candy Gallows’ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ serves as an accurate barometer of what one can expect as they dive into Asylum On The Hill.

While Asylum has its fair share of upbeat and sometimes downright silly moments (see: the shouts of “ABUNDANCE!!!” on the song of the same name, or the entirety of ‘When Susie Was A Skeleton’), the album is ultimately at its best when it’s dialed in emotionally. There’s no better example of this than on the title track, which is an absolutely breathtaking ballad that elevates the entire experience while also serving as one of the best Felice Brothers songs to date. ‘Long Dead Street Musician’ and ‘What Will You Do Now’ also fit into the same mold as ‘Candy Gallows’ and ’Asylum On The Hill’, bringing us these fragile, vulnerable moments that serve as a counterbalance to some of the band’s more impulsive whims – which on this album hit and miss in about equal measures.

As a whole, Asylum On The Hill is more of a mixed bag than might have been expected after a songwriting masterclass like From Dreams To Dust, but it still retains The Felice Brothers’ best traits while leaning more heavily into their whimsical side. It makes for more of a lighthearted listen, but the band’s ability to sweep in out of nowhere with a bleak metaphor or philosophical gold nugget keeps you on your toes at all times. As a surprise release on the heels of arguably their greatest achievement, Asylum is a very good, if not quite essential, addition to The Felice Brothers’ canon.



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user ratings (4)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
DoofDoof
December 30th 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review, I really like the upbeat (maybe sometimes a bit silly) nature of a lot of this album. I found the entire album refreshing, there’s not been an alt country effort to scratch this itch in 2023 - as much as I enjoyed the new Wilco for instance, my god that was Very Serious



This isn’t as perfect as its predecessor but I wouldn’t be surprised if I reach for it at least as often.

DoofDoof
December 30th 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Early listens I was trying to track rate on RYM and I did give lower marks to ‘Abundance’ and ‘Susie’…but six listens later they both creeped up again - too darn catchy ;)



Also you get marks for not mentioning Springsteen’s ‘Mansion on the Hill’

Sowing
Moderator
December 30th 2023


43962 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

On From Dreams to Dust there was arguably just as much humor, but I feel it was better implemented. Be At Rest is a prime example. Here, it sometimes seems quirky just for the sake of it, which is honestly fine because the songs are well-written and catchy, but it is missing that intangible spark for me. It's definitely infectious though and has been getting spun daily since you told me about it, so thank you!

DoofDoof
December 30th 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

‘Be at Rest’ from the last one was spectacular, probably top three Felice Brothers for me, perfect lyrics



This will crash my top 20 of 2023, I really enjoy it

someone
Contributing Reviewer
December 30th 2023


6663 Comments


a new Felice Brothers record is a very welcome surprise

theBoneyKing
December 30th 2023


24444 Comments


I’m glad these guys have found a fanbase here, for a couple albums there I seemed to be the only active user actively following them (though their late ‘10s releases were generally unremarkable outside of a handful of songs).

I’ll definitely purchase and dive into this once I return from the winter holiday. Worth noting that they already have another album in the can, planned for a wide release (physical, streaming, etc.) in summer ‘24.

theBoneyKing
December 30th 2023


24444 Comments


I really like the upbeat (maybe sometimes a bit silly) nature of a lot of this album. I found the entire album refreshing, there’s not been an alt country effort to scratch this itch in 2023

The Florry album scratched that itch for me pretty well but I know you didn’t click with that much, it’s worth revisiting though! ;-D

DoofDoof
December 30th 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Boney - I'll give that one another try and good news if we're getting more Felice Brothers next year.

theBoneyKing
December 30th 2023


24444 Comments


Yeah, this seems to be intended as a “gift to fans” release (hence the digital/pay only option) rather than the “proper” follow-up to FDtD. They’ve done releases like this before, either as tour-only physical or digital PWYW releases. It’s mildly annoying that the digital price is fixed at $12 which imo is a bit steep if you’re not offering a physical release as well, but I’m happy to drop them some cash in the spirit of the holiday season!

Sowing
Moderator
December 30th 2023


43962 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I'm very hyped that we will be getting another album from them in less than a year. Had no idea.

Koris
Staff Reviewer
December 30th 2023


21181 Comments


Never listened to this, but the genre tags make me want to. I'll spin it as soon as I can

Sowing
Moderator
December 30th 2023


43962 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

@Koris: Check 2021's From Dreams to Dust.

Koris
Staff Reviewer
December 30th 2023


21181 Comments


Will do! Your 5 rating certainly caught my attention 😅

Sowing
Moderator
December 30th 2023


43962 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Its a pretty bloated 5 list lol. But yeah, if you're into storytelling folk with some quirkiness, then this band is for you and From Dreams to Dust is the best of their albums that I've actually heard.

theBoneyKing
December 30th 2023


24444 Comments


FDtD is def the Sputcore pick and an excellent album, though I still think their self titled is the most essential with its rawer rootsy sound and greater variety, even if it’s not quite as consistent as FDtD. I’m also partial to Celebration, Florida, which is a bit more experimental with notable electronic influence, though a bit of a dark horse in their catalogue. Great band all around though.

theBoneyKing
December 30th 2023


24444 Comments


For anyone curious about the band’s framing of this release and their upcoming one, from their website:

We released a new record, it’s called Asylum On The Hill. This album will only be available on Bandcamp. Please spread the word!

This album was recorded with our good friend and engineer/producer Nate Wood, in a little church that we converted into a studio. It is a collection of songs about magical automobiles, various deformities of the heart and mind, red geraniums that have grown monstrously large and powerful, and other such themes.

Please don’t buy this record and put it on YouTube or we’ll put a curse on you which will be hard to undo. 🙂 We have another forthcoming album coming summer of 2024 which will have a wider release and be available on all the streaming platforms that don’t pay musicians anything.


Sowing
Moderator
December 30th 2023


43962 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Haha. Last part of that is so sad and true.

DoofDoof
December 31st 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think people have to remember not all musicians, even those in well established bands like this one, are multi millionaires with big pension pots and trust funds for the kids!



Can be a tough gig, not surprised they do the equivalent of OnlyFans stuff people are encouraged to directly pay for. T-shirts sales might not cut it.

DoofDoof
December 31st 2023


15107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beyond spotify I pretty much only pay for music on Bandcamp now, paid for the new Bob Drake album and a week later get an email from him saying 'Hello, I just wanted to thank you for buying The Room in the Tower, and hope you enjoy it a lot! Bob'



He's probably only sending that to a few hundred people at most and as much as its an copied email it does show that artists operating at the fringes are really thankful to fans paying for something directly these days, it's creating a connection that's a bit lost with streaming.



They need a bit more feedback than just 'you have 5000 monthly listeners' and I get that, and they need some money too.

Nrap
December 31st 2023


525 Comments


This one doesnt seem as immediate as dreams to dust but its growin



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