Music Review: Horse Feathers – Cynic's New Year

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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.

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

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