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Music Review: Horse Feathers - Cynic's New Year

 Horse Feathers - Cynic's New Year
Horse Feathers
Cynic's New Year
Available now on Kill Rock Stars (April 17, 2012)

The dark-clouded, rainy temperament of the Pacific Northwest seems an incubator of sorts for artists and musicians inspired by its quiet and enchanting personality. Justin Ringle, originally from Idaho, has called Portland home since 2004, where his subdued, calm nature is reflected back by the natural surroundings. For the past six years, Ringle has recorded his experiences and musings through the sonically ornate and lyrically haunting project Horse Feathers.

In early 2011, Ringle recruited the talents of producer Skyler Norwood (Blind Pilot, Talkdemonic) to record and help arrange a new batch of songs that would eventually become Cynic’s New Year, out now on Kill Rock Stars. Nathan Crockett, longtime collaborator of Ringle, joins on violin, with a host of other musicians playing everything from French horn and bells to banjo and upright bass. On their latest effort, Horse Feathers maintains the stark contrast between their uplifting arrangements and dark, poetic lyrics that have become a trademark of their sound.

horse feathers artist

Ringle’s overarching sentiment, concerned with the changing of seasons and hardships commonly bestowed upon young people, is neatly wrapped in the single “Fit Against the Country.” Backed by pulsing strings and acoustic guitar  à la early Neil Young, Ringle pleasantly creaks, “Every night we all go to a house we will never own/ Every night we are tired, we’ve been worked to the bone...It’s a hard country we made.” A riffing banjo and a handful of voices join the chorus for the working man’s plight by song’s end.

Where Horse Feathers falls short in originality (“Pacific Bray” sounds as if Sam Beam from Iron & Wine lost the track when he turned in The Shepherd’s Dog for production) they thrive in producing a space where uneasy, contemplative lyrics exist among floral musical arrangements. Speaking of this element, Ringle explains, “I think the contrast is really just about trying to express some grey area emotionally...something real for me.” “Nearly Old Friends” is a prime example of this recurring juxtaposition. Over a backing track built for inspiring springtime drives along the coast, Ringle urgently warns, “Something wicked is bound to this way come,” suggesting that no perfect moment comes without impending doom. If the end really is nigh, as some believe, be sure to revel in the tragic beauty of Cynic’s New Year before the winter solstice. Here's the video for the album's first single, "Where I'll Be:"


Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on