Analogue Music | Horse Feathers - Appreciation


Artist: Horse Feathers · Written by Scott Elingburg

Date Released

4 May, 2018


Kill Rock Stars


35 minutes

Appreciation, Horse Feathers’ sixth LP, is one of the band's best albums.

If the superlative sounds a little over-the-top, you can always reconcile my assertion with the recorded proof on Appreciation. I recommend you begin exactly where Julie Andrews taught us to begin—at the very beginning.

Lead single “Without Applause” isn’t the first Horse Feather’s track to feature a super rhythmic bass and drum combination. It is, however, the first track with a obvious swing, an upbeat brace that skips along like it could be a lost track from an early Van Morrison record or late-career Dylan record. “Work was on the wane,” Ringle announces at the outset. But he must be inhabiting someone else’s philosophy because the arrival of the song is indicative of the total opposite. Ringle is at a high mark, a reinvigorated work ethic.

After the surge of the opening track, you could be forgiven any suspicions about the sustainability of such a sound, especially from a band that typically trades in minimal folk templates. And, after all, artists typically put their best foot forward to grab wayward listener’s attentions, especially in the digital age. But the ebb and flow of Appreciation doesn’t wane for a second in the duration of these ten songs. At just 35 minutes, Ringle packs everything that he can do and a few things he’s never tried before into a slim volume of songs that linger long past the final fade out.

What the band—primarily Justin Ringle at the center with a rotating company of players of varying instruments, all of them exquisite musicians—brings to Appreciation is a new uptempo country vibe decorated with trills of R&B and pockets of classic soul turned dialed in. Songs like “Don’t Mean to Pry,” with its Appalachian pedal steel and “The Hex” with it’s single-strummed banjo and syncopated bass, are newly added elements to song structure. All would have undoubtedly been standouts a decade or two prior, especially during the late-90s/early aughts alt-country fervor.

But labeling Appreciation’s tracks with genre tags feels insincere and disingenuous. Ringle’s songs cross lines from folk to rock to pop and country, criss-crossing whatever instruments suit the song best. There are still ballads of stark beauty and naked honesty (“Born In Love,” “On the Rise”) a couple of uptempo crowd-pleasers (“Altamont,” “Best to Leave”) and minor key explorations (“Evictions,” “Faultline Wall”), but the surprises come song after song, in measures you don’t always expect. The way that Ringle’s voice suits his own brand of Soul music, the Nashville-ian clean electric guitar, and, most impressive, the undeniably attraction of the anchored bass. Good lord, on “Best to Leave,” Donald “Duck” Dunn’s ghost surely must have been in the studio as well as a few Southern spirits from Stax Records.

The record sounds immediately, poignant, and, most importantly, utterly repeatable. In early album instances, especially on their sparse, emotional House With No Home, the melodies were established early, then repeated, until, finally, closing songs with sharp clarity. Appreciation follows a similar pattern of an album arc but flexes its musical muscles early and leaves enough lingering to buoy your memories of songs. Ringle’s songwriting remains the center of this universe, but the players and the scenery help make the production one to remember.

Credit, perhaps, the new location of recording, primarily in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, for the sound. Maybe the East Coast is where Ringle was destined to be all along, but after twelve years of making records, Appreciation has the kind vibrancy other bands long for after five full-length records.