Album review: "Cynic's New Year"
By - Dan Miller
Friday, May 11, 2012
To describe a musician's work as "tasteful" seems like a backhanded compliment, implying that it might be holding back or overly restrained.
But using that word to characterize Horse Feathers' new album, "Cynic's New Year," is accurate and complimentary. The baroque folk sound burns slowly, not only because of its patient tempos and ornate arrangements, but also because of Justin Ringle's hushed tenor. Ringle's gentle delivery might make him an unassuming frontman, but his understated performance brims with raw emotion.
The album hits highs on such songs as the stately "Last Waltz," the relatively twangy "Fit Against the Country" and the brief, stirring instrumental "Elegy for Quitters." The track "Bird on a Leash" embodies the album's best qualities; its melancholy strings don't go overboard, and Ringle's vocals feel dramatic but unaffected. His lyrics have a poet's touch.
Similar artists in the indie-folk genre sometimes seem put-on and inauthentic, as though they're trying to conjure up an old-time aesthetic while ignoring the lingering sense of irony that inadvertently comes with it. Horse Feathers uses all of the same instruments - banjo, mandolin and strings - but "Cynic's New Year" is most striking for the sincerity that comes through in Ringle's vocals and the beauty of the band's compositions.