These days, it seems that the alternative folk scene is getting more popularity than ever before. The likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes have stormed the airwaves over the last year and a half, but there have been a plethora of other bands making strides in this genre, among them Justin Ringle, better known as the brains behind Horse Feathers.
Ringle’s sound, like many of the alt-folk groups we hear, is based around soaring vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitars. Ringle’s voice reminds me somewhat of Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, and his guitar-work is by turns intricate and simple, using a full compliment of sounds to add variation and intrigue to his 2006 debut record. Words Are Dead is a record whose changes are subtle but effective, from the delicate picking of the opening track ‘Hardwood Pews’ to the lonesome banjo of final track ‘Mother’s Sick’.
Horse Feathers are not a well-known band by any means, but this album is a brilliant starting point for them (Ringle is accompanied by Peter Broderick) and they have since released a second LP, 2008’s House With No Home, which I must admit I’ve yet to track down.
This record is unlike many of its folk compatriots, not going for the complex harmonies of Bowerbirds or Bon Iver but rather preferring a single voice evoking the emotion of the song. This enables Ringle to make these songs personal, almost conversational in their tone as if telling a story to the listener. Sacrificing complexity for simplicity is not a method that always works on the album, but more often than not it’s a successful measure.
Ringle does occasionally stray from his simple roots, offsetting his solo vocals and often lone guitar with the inclusion of stringed instruments, which far from adding saccharine emotion a la later Coldplay or studio-altered Damien Rice, makes the songs sound rustic and makes the record as comfortable as a well-worn chair or battered trainers and lets you sink into the music itself, a nice feeling.
However, despite its high points, Words Are Dead does have a slightly repetitive quality at times, perhaps due to the fact that it’s a debut record and Ringle is still forming his sound which he will go on to augment and alter later on. A nice record to spend a summer’s day listening to, Words Are Dead is not a classic record or essential listening, but a nice listen and perhaps gives an indicator as to what Ringle can achieve down the road. One for the alt-folk audience, and perhaps an entrance into the genre for the thus far un-versed in the style itself. Good stuff.
Sickest tracks: ‘Hardwood Pews’, ‘Falling Through The Roof’, ‘Finch on Saturday’.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog, Bowerbirds – House of Diamonds, Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago.