Horse Feathers conjure an older definition of “gothic” in their music. It is the term as used in Southern fiction—at once horrible and beautiful. Like Flannery O’Connor’s short stories or Tennessee Williams’ plays, the songs are populated by families and lovers that are grotesque in the way that they can barely conceal their terrible pain, yet they experience moments that approach transformative grace.
Horse Feathers is composed of one man (Justin Ringle) writing, singing and playing guitar and a constellation of musical acquaintances filling out the aural space with string arrangements and traditional instrumentation. The Broderick siblings (Peter and Heather) have offered the greatest contribution to Horse Feathers’ recorded output, laying down pining cello and violin lines, vocal harmonies and folk and classical instruments such as celeste, saw, banjo and mandolin. When touring, the trio of Nathan Crockett, Catherine O’Dell and Sam Cooper are Ringle’s backing band. Their music is a co-mingling of pastoral folk with classical and avant arrangements.
The band released their debut record Words are Dead on Lucky Madison in 2006 (and reissued on vinyl in 2008) and quickly cultivated a positive reputation and a devoted following. They subsequently signed to Kill Rock Stars and released House With No Home in 2008, and have been restlessly touring in its wake. If you catch the band on their tour, perhaps you can acquire their new 7”, with the song “Road to Ruin” from the PDX Pop Now! 2008 compilation as the a-side and “Will Not Try” as its b-side. And you should see them at all costs—I have been reminded of why I like music so much each time I have watched them play, from Justin’s first time performing these songs in a friend’s living room, to witnessing them hush a noisy crowd with their whispered performance at the Sunset Tavern this past winter.
Ringle grew up in rural Idaho, an experience that compelled him to seek out and create his own ethos, and that still informs his music. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2004 and established connections with musicians there. In the arrangement of Horse Feathers’ music, one can hear the soft, graceful foliage of the hemlocks of western Oregon, and one can feel the shadow and shade provided by their near-impervious canopy. But listening to Ringle’s words, stories and his plaintive voice, and instead you hear the stolid and open lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests of his home. This part of Horse Feathers’ music is from the other Pacific Northwest—the Inland Empire, and its sound is of lonesome wind moving through the pines, of austere sunshine, cool summer nights and hard winters.
Horse Feathers’ music is wrought with reckonings, heresy and redemption. Through it, Ringle embodies the clairvoyant seer, casting judgment while shaken by what he has seen. His body seems to act as a vessel for his voice, and the intensity and tautness that he brings to his delivery is astonishing. Horse Feathers not only offer the sound of the event—the exorcism, the baptism, the fight that ends the marriage, the funeral—but of the days and years that follow, the solitude and contemplation. Theirs is a music that demands a quiet, a stillness, and concentration.
Horse Feathers: Curs In The Weeds [mp3]
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