Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Review: The Feather Lungs, "Arrival"

What better way to reignite my blog than with a September review of the debut CD from Maine 's very own The Feather Lungs.  Let's step into the sound of this talented new band!

The Feather Lungs formed in May of 2013 and have been building up their reputation with concerts all over the state, from Bangor to Portland and all the way out to Bar Harbor.  They have also made appearances on radio stations WKIT and WBLM. This past week they unleashed their debut album, aptly titled Arrival.

In terms of length, Arrival is one of those albums like Madonna's Music or The Ramones' The Ramones: short, fast, all killer, no filler.  Opening track "Subtraction" seems to have become a sort of signature song for the band, and it certainly contains the level of energy necessary to kick off an album.  Singer Laura England Wood, whose voice will seize you like a Siren and not let go, immediately proves that she can effortlessly move between octaves, and this is not even her strongest performance on the album.  The brief bridge is this song's greatest moment.  The ten second instrumental fade out allows the rest of the band to shine, carrying the listener onward and, yes, upward.

I say upward because if "Subtraction" is good, "Heartburn" is downright great.  The opening atmosphere conjures early 80s Siouxsie and the Banshees and Echo and the Bunnymen, and the song boasts arguably the greatest mix on the album (courtesy Noah Cole).  The sound is crystal clear, and each instrument comes through distinctly as they work to form a seamless whole. Drummer Richard Fortin anchors the track, while guitarist David Young adds melancholy chords that are so moving you could weep.  Bassist Nick Perry, the band's matinee idol, provides the texture that makes "Heartburn" one of this year's essential tracks.

Laura, who naturally mesmerized during "Heartburn," is center stage from the opening seconds of "Dull Blade," which was showcased on WBLM's Greetings From Area Code 207 yesterday. As the band's lyricist (Young writes the music, while the entire band arranges), she is top tier, creating visceral imagery in each track, but more importantly providing us with the kinds of psychological insights we only get from the very best rock music. Some of her finest work in this area comes during "Dull Blade" and fourth track "Daydream," which shines in concert and has also received the video treatment.  Lines like "your plans all turn in to dust; that iron resolve is starting to rust" rhyme fluidly, without strain.  In terms of haunting imagery, it's hard to beat "With pitchforks carve me up, take her down ... switch to night vision now, because I'm fading out."  For a song to start with that tone of solemnity, then soar into a chorus that is musically and lyrically inspiring is an example of the talented twists The Feather Lungs offer up on each track.

So The Feather Lungs have a fresh and original sound, although their influences are quite clear at times.  They seem to have two sides: experimental and melodic. Luckily for this listener, even when they indulge the former side, there is always a strong melody to be found, and more often than not a big chunky hook. Those of us who are not trained musicians can admire music in a different way than those who are, and to be frank, I like a good hook. There is a gem of a hook in "Letter To Sam," which allows Wood to unleash her inner Shirley Manson (Garbage) while the boys create an intoxicating burst of delayed looping and feedback, and everyone revels in the process of forging the sound.

"Three Times" was an early composition for the band, and Fortin's drums shine while Wood does a lot with a little.  This song is very much a showcase for the guys to bust out, with an instrumental bridge over which Laura simply moans like a modern day banshee.  For those who like a little more rock, a bit less atmosphere, this track is for you.

The band has cleverly placed their title cut as the penultimate track.  When I saw them perform live this summer, I was struck immediately by the song's cinematic scope.  Wood begins singing a song about gaining inner clarity and arriving at a new state of being with more of her trademark swoops, switching octaves like nobody's business. Perry's bass takes joy in keeping this song from tearing off into outer space, while Fortin's drums sound ecstatic to be alive.  The band's joy at their arrival is almost tangible, and kudos to Young for melding multiple sections into something fully whole.

The band's skill at sequencing is proven by closing track "Sea Spell," which ushers us out in grand style. Lyrically, it flows well from "Arrival," with Wood again exploring themes of renewal and possibility, while acknowledging that life can be a "tangle" even at its best times.  Some of her highest notes come on this track, although a seductive low tone is employed as well.  The power of the sea as savior or enemy?  Deep themes on this, their debut album, imply that the band will continue to grow.

Overall, Arrival is an utter triumph that will satisfy listeners of modern alternative and rock, as well as fans of singer songwriters.  Lyrically, musically, and especially vocally, the album pleases on each of its eight tracks.  Kudos to Fortin for crystalline production, and a shout out to Douglas Bourget for colorful and vibrant album art.  Arrival is available at ALL Bull Moose locations at a very low price,  so do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.