What amazes me about the recent freak-folk movement is not the sheer numbers of bands coming out of the forests and finding their way onto CD. What truly amazes me is the huge percentage of acts that are absolutely phenomenal. Unlike other genre floods, such as the grunge glut or the `alternative’ avalanche, there hasn’t yet seemed to be a massive amount of third-rate wannabes or imitators. Instead, it seems as though there has been a slew of neo-folk hippies lying in wait, ready to finally be noticed as the artists they are, rather than languish in some hidden cabin decorated with authentic headdresses, hand-woven sweaters and dream catchers as they play old out of tune pianos and three stringed banjoes. While this may sound like something out of some gothic horror film, to a select few, this is pure hippie commune heaven.
In the ’80s, a decade we are soon to feature in our yearly `Best of’ series, the spirit of the `me decade’ brought on single-named artists, glitzy flash and a host of band member solo excursions in order to be the `center of attention.’ Not so with the neo-folk movement as, just as with some of the previous folk dynasties, artists aren’t put off by sheer numbers. While Sam Beam, Andy Cabic, Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart are solitary men, each has lately surrounded themselves with other people. Beam, as Iron & Wine, recently made an album and toured with Calexico. Cabic has made each of his Vetiver projects a group effort. Stevens dubs his merry band of musicians with each release (i.e., the Michigan Militia and the Illinoisemakers) while Banhart filled his Cripple Crow with a corpseful of collaborators including the Vermont collective, Feathers.
The group, eight members strong, released their self-titled debut on their own label before being discovered by the likeminded artists above, the left coast’s Banhart and Cabic, who have now reissued Feathers as the second release from their Gnomonsong label. The cover (looking like the party photo from the local “How to Host a Murder: D&D edition”) is almost an exact replica of Banhart’s last album, albeit without the ghostly heads floating in the trees, which itself is homage to several other communal photograph album covers from years gone by (Current 93, Incredible String Band, etc.). The music within is about what you’d expect, that is if you’re expecting a delicately voiced and strummed album of ’60s English folk with a touch of psychedelia in their drum circle. One gets the sense in reading the lyrics, which were conveniently yet maddeningly placed in the liner notes, that you might need to be under the influence of some type of organic substance to find understanding. But that doesn’t seem to matter when listening to the lilting harmonic delicacy of songs like “Silverleaves in the Air of Starseedlings.”
Sure, there’s a lot to stereotype about Feathers. They look and dress the part. They write lyrics that would make Cheech & Chong say, “Wow man…heavy.” But there’s no denying how their music elevates them above the simple pigeonhole. The collective have taken the perfect name, as the guitars, harps and other instruments make the music seem lighter than air. You can easily chalk up Feathers as one more piece in a pile of evidence that proves there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.