Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Features -- Some Kind Of Salvation

The Features -- Some Kind Of Salvation (self-released)

It’s good to see this Murfreesboro, Tennessee band is still around. The band built a buzz based on sizzling live shows and some EPs and singles that showed an ability to stitch together sounds ranging from ‘70s glam (the Roxy Music/Sparks type) to the harsher side of Pixies into something distinctly their own. This was greatly aided by the band’s frontman, Matthew Pelham, who is a talented songwriter.

The Features were snapped up by Universal Records, and Exhibit A was perhaps a tad less frenetic than I would have liked, yet it still captured most of what I liked about the band. But it did not capture enough record buyers, so the band was eventually jettisoned by Universal.

On this new album, the band’s sound is maturing. While this results in some of the music being less distinctive, both Pelham and his mates find a way to put a stamp on the material. This is because Pelham has a real personality and the band supplies a similar energy. And when you know how to write a catchy song and creatively arrange said song, good things tend to happen.

Early on, “The Drawing Board” has a structure like an Eastern European folk song. But this isn’t some Beirut-ish stab at indie-thenticity. It just provides a foundation for a horn-fueled slice of whimsy: “Take your woman by the hand/explain to her your master plan/if she cries then you will know/that your plan is full of holes.” In this song, Pelham sees romance as trial and error. I think he’s right.

The multi-tracked saxophones of Jim Hoke come back on the ‘60s R & B styled “Wooden Heart”. Pelham is not a classic soul singer by any means, but he brings his passion and this number smokes. The rhythm section of Roger Dabbs (bass) and Rollum Haas (drums) is rock steady. When the song breaks down, after Pelham keeps intoning “when you are mine/this heart will shine/I’ll set my watch to its perfect time” he starts screaming “time” as the guitar and keyboards vamp in the background, and it’s a magic moment on a great track.

This track is preceded by “Temporary Blues” in which Pelham “trade[s] in his tennis shoes/for steel toed rubber boots.” He’s a poor boy who has to join the army to make a living. This song starts softly and builds up to a pumping chorus that would appeal to any Hold Steady fan. The lines “one day we’re gonna make them change/we’re gonna turn this mess around” really resonate because you don’t think the protagonist really believes them.

Song after song shows that Pelham was spending a lot of time honing his craft. This is a balanced collection of songs. “Lions” comes out with pop bravado and mixes lower key verses with a sing-a-long “oh oh oh oh” chorus. Pelham shows that he can write a winning slower number on the breathy and dreamy (or nightmarish?) ballad “The Gates of Hell”. And “GMF (Genetically Modified Blues)” mixes new wavey sci-fi drama with slashing guitar fury.

I would strongly urge fans of intelligent pop music to check this out. Every aspect of this disc is of the highest quality. These guys deserve as much of your attention as The New Pornographers, and The New Pornographers certainly deserve your attention.

No comments: