Horse Feathers hail from the not-so-distant land of Portland, Oregon. With the release of a new album, A Cynic’s New Year, they are now on tour and stopping in San Francisco for a show at the Independent. This album is the third from the band’s leader, Justin Ringle, after the exit of brother and sister Peter and Heather Broderick, and with a newly expanded group of bandmates. In general Horse Feathers’ sound is rich with folk roots, whiney fiddles, deep cello notes, and a whispered twang. While their sophomore album, House With No Home, included a few powerful ballads like “Rude to Rile,” the band’s songs struggled to distinguish themselves from one another on previous releases.
Cynic’s New Year teases out the best parts of Horse Feathers with songs that are still true to the band’s sound, but diverse enough to feel like they belong together on a record. Ringle’s vocals enhance the intimacy of the lyrics, which confess the ending of a chapter and the ushering in of a new one. The album isn’t really written for cynics and Ringle doesn’t seem to be one himself; Cynic’s New Year is full of hopeful tunes about moving forward in life and love. The single, “Fit Against the Country,” strikes close to home in San Francisco, with a sound that feels like it dropped straight out of the fog and verses that read:
“Every night we go to a house we’ll never own /
Nearly every day was a darker kind of grey /
But the color we all knew best /
Is a darker shade of red.”
Photo: Horse Feathers Flickr
Horse Feathers’ live show feels like an intensified acoustic set. Choral melodies to Ringle’s vocals hang in the air above glittery guitar chords. This tour includes the addition of some new instruments, which help to round out the more energetic moments. Horns, woodwinds, and brass appear alongside old friends.
While each song on Cynic’s New Year offers an end, the hunger for new growth intimately creeps into the narrative. The last verse of the first song “A Heart Arcane” acts as the compass to the rest of the journey this album provides:
“Despite what I do /
Every ending begins /
The start of something new.”
Horse Feathers play The Independent in San Francisco, Wednesday, December 12, 2012 with Frank Fairfield — celebrated by NPR music as “a one man folk revival” — opening. For tickets and information, visit theindependentsf.com.