The title track kicks off Thistled Spring with a simple piano melody that builds to a gorgeous orchestral swell. The soulful but somber vocals of songwriter Jason Ringle further herald this song of wary rejuvenation. Horse Feathers' previous record, House With No Home, explored darker themes, but Thistled Spring seems to contend that the evidence for both loss and hope lie in the mundane, the hardly noticed.
The Portland, Ore., band leans heavily on country instruments like banjo and fiddle, which give songs like “Starvive Robins” and “Belly of June” an ancient feel. For a record that slowly begins to feel like an ode to a season of change, other songs like “As a Ghost” and “This Bed” appropriately evoke the cycles of death and rebirth that occur yearly inside and outside the home. Ringle has a flair for the spare poetic line, and his semi-falsetto turns those lines into haunting, but life-giving portraits of what can be seen -- and relied on -- with proper attention.
As such, there is joy here even in loss. Recovery from sadness, breakup, embarrassment, with the attendant second chance that is possible, is Horse Feathers’ hat-rack for hanging these little folk gems, which effortlessly reach the epic. These songs walk the line between melancholy and euphoria and show them to be two sides of the same coin. Thistled Spring, more nuanced and poised than its much-lauded predecessor, signals the ongoing work of a band far from finished, far from plumbing the depths of which it is capable.
Thistled Spring is the third studio album from Portland folk group Horse Feathers, and second for Kill Rock Stars. The album art of their preceding effort, House with No Home, was of a bleak winter landscape, and its contents delivered on that suggestion of isolation and longing. Here, however, Horse Feathers promises descriptions of springtime and life, as the album title and art suggests. The band calls it "an album of rebirth, renewal, and fragile hope."
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