I’ll be the first to admit my naiveté when it comes to whether or not artists have what it takes to write a hit song. I certainly know a good song when I hear one, but translating that into popular appeal or universalism can be a much trickier feat, particularly when half the battle, or more, is marketing. When I hear a song like Burning Airlines’ “Outside the Aviary,” I always think to myself, `this song’s a hit!’, but I know perfectly well that it never had a chance. And yet, I’m still scratching my head about why The Features never became as big as Ok Go or Kings of Leon.
Maybe The Features haven’t made enough videos with treadmill choreography, or perhaps their jeans aren’t quite tight enough, but when it comes to songwriting chops, The Features are one of the most kickass power pop outfits in the United States. On their debut full-length Exhibit A, the Tennessee-based outfit delivered radio ready hooks and speaker-blowing crunch, two minutes at a time. A handful of singles were released from the album, and a video or two was screened on “Subterranean,” but it wasn’t long before The Features were dropped from Universal, and thus that fleeting hit would be even farther off.
However, the D.I.Y. approach has done well for the band, as their strong work ethic and a handful of self-released EPs have helped the band amass a sizable following. Before second album Some Kind of Salvation even had a chance to hit record store shelves, its limited edition vinyl was already sold out. When you hear the spectacular, impeccably produced pop on display here, however, it’s pretty easy to understand why.
Some Kind of Salvation, much like Exhibit A, is about as flawless as pop albums come, overflowing with explosive power chords, crashing cymbals and bandleader Matthew Pelham’s scratchy-throated howls. It’s actually a bit of an understatement to call this a pop album, because its visceral, turned-up-to-eleven aesthetic is nothing if not rock `n’ effing roll. But while it’s raw in all the right places, it’s also constructed with a careful hand, with no detail overlooked, and in many ways, it’s the details that make the record such a triumph. The soulful blare of horns turns “The Drawing Board” from a simple pop-punk song to a mammoth celebration. The fiery organ in “GMF” transforms it into a heroic slab of classic garage rock. And the twinkle of piano in “The Temporary Blues” and “Foundation’s Cracked” tenderize some otherwise muscular rock throwdowns.
The meat and potatoes of The Features’ sound is still their snappy, triple exclamation point guitar, bass and drum rockers, and that holds true for the entirety of Some Kind of Salvation. Badass riffs are all over this thing, reaching a giddy peak with the outstanding “Wooden Heart,” the kind of ultra-cool, high-energy sleaze rocker that has in spades everything that the Rolling Stones lost several decades ago. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the damn thing is a hit. Regardless, it’s comforting to see that even as The Features have allowed their sound to mature and expand, they haven’t abandoned that reckless, raw quality that made them so irresistible in the first place.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.