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Published: 2006/06/22
by Pat Buzby

Self titled- Feathers

self-titled – Feathers
To Find Me Gone – Vetiver

Gnomonsong 02

DiCristina 07

“Freak folk” is the latest proof that everything that goes out of fashion will eventually have a second shot. In the post-Pepper/Blonde On Blonde late ’60s, it seemed as if a new hippie songwriter with an obscure lyrical bent and an acoustic guitar emerged every week, primarily in Britain. Some of them went pop and got hits (Cat Stevens), some died young and attracted a cult following (Nick Drake), and some dabbled in the style before gaining familiarity with makeup, synthesizers and dance music (David Bowie). Many others had their chance and faded away, leaving a legacy of intriguing album covers for collectors to come across in the used bins.

One suspects that Andy Cabic, the mastermind of Vetiver, has been one of those collectors. Ditto for his associate Devendra Banhart, the most prominent “freak folk” representative, and the members of Feathers, whose disc appears on Cabic and Banhart’s label. Feathers make their impression quickly by putting a photo of a smiling group of miscellaneous long-haired band members and friends on their cover, a cover rather similar to the Incredible String Band’s Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. The music, though, has its parallels with the String Band and sticks closer to verse-chorus song forms than that notoriously rambling group, but is withdrawn enough to make Hangman resemble an Archies greatest hits album in comparison.

Feathers’s assemblage of eight men and women traffic in rural mysticism, quiet voices and opaque imagery. (“There’s a bell above the sky that’s ringing upside down/It’s mirrored in the waters who are shaking underground” is part of a chorus.) At their best (“Past the Moon”), they generate sleepy but appealing melodies in a White Album vein. (Think “Long Long Long”). “Ibex’s Horn,” with its ceremonial minor-key chorus, resembles Pink Floyd in the ’69-‘71 era when Roger Waters and company had mastered thick moods but were low on engaging songs. “Come Around” closes the set on a relatively inviting note, but Feathers is impressive mainly for their determination to stay within their remote musical environment.

To Find Me Gone is more outgoing and less specifically folk, although acoustic guitars remain the primary instrument. Cabic acknowledges R.E.M. as an influence, and “Been So Long” (with its title making up a healthy percentage of the lyric) captures a hazy mood similar to their early work (when, incidentally, they took Hangman veteran Joe Boyd as producer for one album). “The Porter,” with a conciseness not in great supply on either of these two discs, is a miniature which could have come right off of one of those ’60s classics from the used bins.

Unlike Feathers, Vetiver evokes a varied set of moods, but not all of them are equally effective. “I Know No Pardon,” in the middle of the disc, suggests that transitioning from hippie-folk/rock to country is not as easy as Workingman’s Dead may have made it sound, and a few other romantic songs have hints of appealing melodies but suffer from vague lyrics. Towards the end Cabic succeeds more in upping the tempo — “Won’t Be Me” is a facile, engaging rockabilly-tinged track, while “Red Lantern Girls” shifts from acoustic melancholy to an outro with howling electric guitar and stomping drums. The disc closes with a second, more promising country excursion, “Down at El Rio.”

Feathers perhaps go too far; To Find Me Gone could go farther. Like most second-generation artists, neither Feathers nor Vetiver match their role models right away, but, at their best, they catch the mystique which makes for cult followings. Also, one gets the sense that there’s little danger of any of them ending up having anything to do with makeup, synthesizers and dance music.

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