Friday, July 16, 2010

Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring

Coldplay and Horse Feathers sound nothing alike. But, if Chris Martin and the rest of the boys grew up in the American west, in a more rural land. If they wrote songs dug up from that pastoral earth so marked by the changing seasons. If they subtracted the electric guitars and replaced them with acoustic guitar and banjo. If instead of a drummer, there was a string section. If rather than playing grandiosely cliché music, they focused on drawing from waveringly delicate emotions. If, if if. It’s a lot of ifs to be sure, but if they were all true, you’d have Horse Feathers. You’d have something warmly touching and coolly evocative. Music that speaks not just to emotions but to the weather and environment those feelings are rooted in.

Weather and environment are alive in Justin Ringles work and tongue. When your voice is weatherworn, ethereally light and buoyed up with trembling emotion, it’s a good idea to accompany it with strings set tenderly aquiver. They compliment each other, just like rain and sadness or sun and joy. Ringle must know this. Thistled Spring is so defined and colored by it. So formed and gilded, so captivated and made full by the pairing of his voice and the band’s play. They are a vine and its trellis, fruitful because of each other. Ringle so masterfully joins the two, it’s impossible that he doesn’t know this.

The album is celestial, full of sounds that return you to its title, that remind you the music is about Spring, the season of rebirth, of wet and cool, of gradual warming and fragility and hope. Violinist Nathan Crockett and cellist Catherine Odell do an amazing job of making their instruments hum. They play long, steadily flowing sections that draw emotionality out and lift Ringle’s soft, almost fragile voice, making it waifishly robust. On the start of Cascades, a ghostly soft ringing created by drawing a bow along the edge of a cymbal and sounding like a singing saw but deeper and fuller, sets a mournful and tenderly haunting tone. It’s one of several highlights on Thistled Spring, an album fat with songs that marry Ringle’s lonely, worn and lovelorn vocals and the bands excellently ardent playing. There’s no ifs about it.

Yet, if horses hand horns, they’d be unicorns. And if horses had feathers, their wings would sound like Thistled Spring when the wind ruffled them.

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