Drum tracks laid to tape on a snowy winter day. Perhaps surprising to imagine, given the album's warmth and unabashed exuberance, but that's how the foundation was built for Feral Harmonic, the sophomore album from Old Canes.
That's how it began and would continue on throughout the album's creation: always with drum tracks recorded, coincidentally, on the first days of snow in the winter. Chris Crisci would add the rest of the instrumentation himself over the following months, with the additional help of a revolving cast of musicians contributing various parts. And with production regularly interrupted by one thing or another - touring, work, other projects, life in general - it took him three and a half years to complete the album in his basement studio (now known as the Toyshop).
Well worth the wait, the music on Feral Harmonic is bold and loud. While folk music at heart, the presentation is far from traditional, with the songs drawing elements from different influences (such as indie and even punk rock), and the rulebook of contemporary recording thrown out the window. "Production value, fidelity, a low noise floor, whatever, are all beside the point," says Crisci. "The only things I care about are the idea and the energy. Music loses out when the focus is on slick production, and not on expressing what matters most in a song."
The energy and ideas on Feral Harmonic are palpable starting with song one, "Little Bird Courage", as the album launches with joyous, barreling drums, furiously strummed guitars, and glistening toy piano that erupts into a chorus of trumpets. Cautiously plucked banjo forewarns the ominous lessons of "Trust", while cascading guitars, trumpets, and pounding drums build to a boisterous roar, contrasting the lyrical lover's lament in "Stuck". The album closes, after all, with wistful "Southern Radio", which features only Crisci's weathered voice and an acoustic guitar.
The songs tackle the idea that fear can be transcended, that the human spirit flies in the face of life's complications, hurdles, and pain. "The words are all over the place, like life, and half the time I don't know if I'm happy or sad, or both," says Crisci. "I wrote what I was feeling at the time, and so the songs go from one extreme to the other." All of life's energies, contrasts and complements - strength and weakness, courage and fear, joy and despair - are in Feral Harmonic, a wild state of musical harmony and sounds as unfettered and irrepressible as the intent with which it was crafted.
Old Canes began in 2004 as a new project for Appleseed Cast front man Crisci. It was born out of a few acoustic melodies he had written and performed impromptu when Appleseed Cast was uncharacteristically asked to perform acoustically at an in-store performance in Europe. Inspired by a second creative outlet, and the reaction the fledgling songs received, Crisci began recording these and more, calling on a host of musician friends to fill out the parts. Old Canes' debut, Early Morning Hymns, was released in July 2004 on Second Nature Recordings.
Contributors to Feral Harmonic are: John Anderson (White Whale, Boys Life), drums; Kelly Hangauer (4th Of July), trumpet; Jeff Stoltz (Drakkar Sauna), harmophone; Joey Henry (Calamity Cubes), backing vocals; Jordan Geiger (Minus Story, Hospital Ships), backing vocals; Lucas Oswald (Minus Story, Hospital Ships), backing vocals, cello, hammer dulcimer; John Momberg (The Dactyls, Appleseed Cast), drums; and Tyler French (original Old Canes drummer turned union organizer), drums.