Horse Feathers’ third full-length, Thistled Spring (out April 20), dawns like a spring sunrise, cool, spare, hopeful and lonesome. The record begs comparisons to the blooming, soggy, growing natural world, even from those of us unaccustomed to envisioning cold sunlight, budding branches and vibrant grass while listening to records. “Trapped in the rhododendron fumes / Picked by the spring,” bandleader Justin Ringle sings in the opening title track, his voice steady but soft, cushioned by cello and brightened with piano. Horse Feathers is now a four-piece: Ringle, with his tremulously steady voice and guitar; violinist Nathan Crocker; cellist Heather Odell; and Sam Cooper, who’s credited as a multi-instrumentalist. Banjo skitters through several songs, including “Starving Robins,” where each plucked note is bright among the violin and cello, which shiver and swoop like the birds the song is named for. Thistled Spring has a coolness that steams off as the record continues. Its songs are all pitched to subtle anticipation, leaning forward and waiting for change to come.
Whether in a Portland bar or a wooded glen at Pickathon, Horse Feathers plays with a commandingly quiet, intense presence, but Thistled Spring displays a heightened fervency, a longing that rises and retreats from song to song and throughout the whole glorious record. Horse Feathers play at 9 pm Sunday, April 11, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $7. — Molly Templeton
Standing Pat with Tyler Fortier
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. This is the hypothetical question and aesthetic answer simultaneously posed and provided by Tyler Fortier on his fourth album, This Love Is Fleeting. This collection of home and studio recordings by the Eugene troubadour is a solid cycle of folk and country tunes that whirls like a weathervane at the windy Crossroads of Americana — you know, that Faustian place where Robert Johnson signed away his soul to the man with pointy horns. Fortier, a deft songwriter with a voice spun of pure silk, refuses to budge an inch from his obvious sweet spot, standing pat with one leg planted in the past and one in the future. Thankfully, his artistic influences are as attractive as they are apparent. When he doesn’t trip time like Robert Zimmerman getting ready to blow Hibbing for the East Village, Fortier sounds like Ryan Adams right after he left Whiskeytown to become the prodigal son of the burgeoning alt-country scene. Safe, yes, but also pretty damn smart: Fortier ain’t breaking any sound barriers, artistically speaking, but with his talent the choice to remain rooted in tradition is canny and well timed.
With its false start, simple harmonica lick and windblown lyrical lilt, the album’s opening track, “Blue Sky and Sunshine Again,” might be an outtake from Dylan’s eponymous debut. Ditto the second number, “Sing So Blue,” a gorgeous pastoral that receives some tasteful percussive flourishes and a gentle backing vocal from Amanda Lee. Other songs, like “Tennessee (Ain’t That Lonely)” and “Let Me In,” would be right at home on Heartbreaker, Adams’ first solo effort. Moving between these two poles, then, Fortier finds a comfortable and entirely pleasant balance between the old and the new, while for the most part keeping the whole shooting match stripped down to its essentials — strings, a whisper of piano or string here and there, and occasional drum work that chugs and snaps like the wheels of a train bound for Folsom Prison. And yet, despite the infusion of artistic reference points, This Love Is Fleeting hardly qualifies as a stillborn bit of artistic inertia. It’s possible to evolve while standing still, especially when you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. As this latest record makes clear, Fortier — whose “Pale Moon Rise” was a top-five finalist for EW’s Next Big Thing Eugene singles contest — has matured both as a songwriter and a performer. Whereas the aforementioned single, though a perfectly dandy song, suffered from a somewhat heavy hand production-wise, This Love finds him in a more confident and engaged mood, and willing to allow the strength of his songwriting to speak for itself. And Fortier is good enough that his fans will always meet him half way, wherever he chooses to go, or not go.
Tyler Fortier plays at 5 pm at CD World (free) and at 7 pm Thursday, April 15, at Cozmic Pizza. $5, $10 w/CD. — Rick Levin
Love Is All Is Not a Beatles Cover Band
Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, the latest from Swedish rockers Love Is All, is in some ways exceedingly modern and in others a throw-back to the pre-punk mid-to-late ’60s era garage and psychedelic bands.
The first track, “Bigger Bolder,” immediately recalls the fabulous X-Ray Specs, who also utilized saxophone and lyrical finesse in a way that was raw yet focused, dismantling the cloaks of patriarchy and consumerism inch by inch. You might hear it as the Strokes, depending on which side of the generation gap you’re on. That track proves to be an anomaly however, as most songs have a passing interest in melody and structure, and the sax is much less forward. Frontwoman Josephine Olausson has the same kind of vocal power as Poly Styrene, sugary sweet yelps and all, but she has a different target. Olausson seems to look inward for her inspiration, penning lines such as, “There’s no point trying to sound smart / I simply hate every minute that we’re apart,” from “Bigger Bolder.” Most of her lyrics seem to be about the pain of parting. Fine. I don’t expect every band to make a political statement, but I can’t help but think that the 34-year-old Olaussan has a bit more life experience that she could draw on for her poetry.
Still, very few vocalists brim with as much personality as Olausson. She could out-squeal anyone, probably even Björk, but there’s enough buzzing guitar and oddball danceability here that the overall effect is good, clean, Swedish pop fun. Love Is All, Princeton and Greenlander play at 8:30 pm Thursday, April 15, at WOW Hall. (all ages show) $8 adv., $8 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Last fall Passion Pit was scheduled to play at the EMU — but the show was canceled at the last minute. Since then, the Boston quintet has just gotten bigger and bigger: three sold-out New York City shows in one weekend! Appearances on more year-end lists than you can count on all your fingers! More huge shows on the horizon! But first they’re finally coming to Eugene, just days before releasing a deluxe edition of their 2009 debut full-length, Manners. Passion Pit is touring in the company of Mayer Hawthorne, the white kid from Michigan whose soul sound sends people into spasms of praise; and Bear Hands, a Brooklyn quartet whose new single, “What a Drag,” is a shuffling, sultry thing, dense with varied percussion and downright odd when singer Dylan Rau says, “You got them long nails … I’m dreaming of your goddamn long nails.” Is it a complaint? A lament? The song plays itself out with a simple bassline and a pulsing, repeating guitar; the single’s B-side, “Can’t Stick ‘Em,” has a different sort of intensity but just as much layered, rhythmic indie rock charm. Passion Pit, Mayer Hawthorne and the County and Bear Hands play at 8 pm Saturday, April 10, at the McDonald Theater. $20 adv., $22 doors. — Molly Templeton
Transference, Spoon’s seventh record, doesn’t immediately sound like much of a change. Britt Daniel’s raw voice is unmistakable; there’s an increasing rhythmic shiftiness, on superb display in “Is Love Forever,” which begins with what sounds like a crazed electronic sneeze; the band still makes precise use of piano and organ and the space between the notes, which gives their songs a spare and particular atmosphere. But there’s no sign of the bright urgency of “The Ghost of You Lingers” or the smile in Daniel’s voice on “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” from 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. These days, he sounds a little pissed. We’re a long way from the forlorn nostalgia of Girls Can Tell.
Much of Transference has the loose, messing-about sense of a band playing with expectations after a hit record (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga hit the Billboard Top 10). The elements are all here, but they’ve been shuffled, the embellishments altered or removed, leaving songs like the distant piano ballad “Goodnight Laura” a little disconcerting. There’s a trade-off between Daniel and the rest of the band; his vocals drop out halfway through “I Saw the Light,” and later, in the wistful “Out Go the Lights,” the crisp percussion and guitar hang back when Daniel isn’t singing, maintaining just enough presence to keep the song moving. Transference ends with “Nobody Gets Me But You,” an odd, funky, minimal, evolving track dotted with frenetic piano that cuts off as abruptly as it appears. It sounds like musical sarcasm when Daniel sings the title phrase. Nobody gets him but you. Yes, you; and you, and you, and you. Spoon and Explode Into Colors play at 8 pm Monday, April 12, at the McDonald Theater. $25. — Molly Templeton