Horse Feathers frontman Justin Ringle has turned out to be a songwriter strongly influenced by the seasons. His Portland, Oregon-based band’s last record, the critically acclaimed House With No Home, was a winter album par excellence, from its chilly cover art to its frostbitten songs of loneliness and loss.
But from the first piano notes of the title track, plinking like spring rain on a windowpane, new album Thistled Spring shows itself to be one of rebirth, renewal, and fragile hope. The sun is out in the world evoked by this music, and in the first couple of songs it feels like the sun of early spring, glinting on a frosty river where the ice is just breaking up. “Thistled Spring” and “Starving Robins” both continue Ringle’s trademark use of space in songwriting, but in this case the space is full of potential, like the spaces between drops of melting snow. The sun gets stronger and warmer as the album moves along, shining most brilliantly in the jaunty, joyous “Belly of June”, where Ringle’s characteristically spare vocals become fattened up with delicious harmonies as the music swells with strings and banjo. Things get positively hot in “Cascades” and “The Drought” before blossoming into the full-fledged pop Americana gem “Vernonia Blues”.
Thistled Spring as a whole displays a rich progression – more textured and lush than the band’s previous two albums, it also captures the skilful interplay of the band’s current touring line-up of Ringle, violinist Nathan Crockett, cellist Catherine Odell, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cooper. Lyrically Ringle continues to explore broken relationships, longing, and pain, but this album has an undercurrent of heat that translates to a thawing of frozen hearts, and music which rushes like spring torrents, all of which points to a resurgence of life after a hard winter.
Horse Feathers’ first album, Words Are Dead, received a Plug Awards nomination for Americana Album of the Year in 2007, and their second, House With No Home was one of Kill Rock Stars’ best-selling debut records ever. The band has spent the last two years touring, and their live shows are characterised by packed houses of silent, attentive crowds listening intently to every note and every empty space. Their recent collaboration with members of the Oregon Ballet Theatre met with great critical acclaim, and 2010 will bring further touring in the US and Europe, including SXSW and multiple summer festivals.