Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Justin Ringle, the lead singer for the Portland band Horse Feathers, makes what we're going through - the daily rigmarole - feel a bit tenuous, like some slender country stream worming through the fields as a lonesome train would, without passengers, conductors or freight. He makes it feel like a coyote, with arched back, a slacking jump in its step and skinnied ribs, tracing alongside that same stream, hoping to run into some little morsel to run down and dine on. He makes it feel like moving through a dense, forested area and only seeing whatever the benevolent moonlight wants you to see on that particular evening - the clearing up ahead, the bumpy roots that you may or may not trip and fall over, the barbed-wire fence that needs to be hopped or avoided. It's this similar kind of moonlight that Ringle, Nathan Crockett, Sam Cooper, and Catherine Odell likely write by, casting all of these wintered words in this hue of luminosity or relative luminosity. It's as if we have no other choice but to join these three main players in the group in this sort of imagined place of hiatus and distance, where retreating doesn't necessarily diminish the stings and welts of all the issues that are quite a bit harder to outrun. Ringle sings of one character, as she "weeps in the brush alone," there amongst her pain. We're taken into the wooded elements, all of which bear a sort of inherent despair and "The Drought," on the band's latest album on Kill Rock Stars, "Thistled Spring," brings a situation, akin to those old and long-gone folk singers of generations past, into the fold. They're singing about the poor soil and the way the weather's wrecking havoc on the fortunes of all those farmers, as well as everything and every being reliant on water and the earth for its salvation - that coyote referenced above, the muskrats, the crows and more. It's a song that's down to the brass tacks of basic needs - water from the sky to grow food for everything with whiskers, fur or skin to eat - and Horse Feathers do these subjects well. The characters that Ringle brings to life seem to be hanging onto thin threads, though they all seem like survivors, all while walking along, slowly and in measured steps, creating a sound and an overriding emotion that reminds us of a still January night, with the only sounds anywhere being those of boots sinking through the unpacked snow. He sings of this deadly drought this way, "No clouds in the sky/I hear the pines crack and cry/There's no reason to try/And it's not the same life/Here the morning's like a knife/And the riverbed's gone dry." It puts into perspective what should be held as most important and literally, all that's really important is impossible to avoid and it will follow you into the trees, to the hideaways in the brush, back with the dry creek and the hungry animals. "Cascades" is another tale that seems as if it's coming from a tough place, the strings wailing a touch, Ringle singing of that despair and kisses on lips that sound as if they'd be as quickly wiped dry as they were placed there. It pangs of loss and you sense that the bloods running through the people involved here is about as thick as it comes and turning colder. There are birds complaining and there are burning breezes in Horse Feathers songs, sunsets and suns coming up over the far edge of the land that will make a grown man weep uncontrollably. It's all there and it summons you.