Reviews

Feral Harmonic

Author: dryvetyme
10/20/2009 | Dryvetymeonlyne.com | www.dryvetymeonlyne.com | Album Review
In my humble opinion, solo efforts from any given member of an actively touring band typically and frequently suck. I'm not talking about the records someone released after he/she left the band or the band broke up (though that material often stinks to high heaven as well). What I'm talking about are the music put out by any given band mate while the band is still an ongoing, live entity. Not all of us can be Jack White, with two or three irons in the fire at the same time (and even he seems to realize that it would be foolish to work on music for The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather all at ones). Shouldn't a stir-crazy musician be focusing on one thing at a time and channeling his/her energy in one direction for the betterment of the group?

Then again, I've been proven wrong before, and it's happened once again, this time in the image of Feral Harmonic by Old Canes. The secondary artistic outlet for Chris Crisci, the front man of the long-running emo-meets-post-rock outfit Appleseed Cast, Old Canes sets itself apart from other side projects of its ilk by sounding absolutely nothing like the music made by Crisci's primary band. Instead of the soaring, delay- and tremolo-powered songs from records like The End Of The Ring Wars and Low Level Owl, Vol. I, the album is a exciting accumulation of loose, rocking, barely hinged country-folk tunes.

The only thing that Feral Harmonic might have in common with Appleseed Cast is that neither has met a crescendo they didn't embrace fully and stretch to its loudest possible extent. The record is big, loud, and raw, but remains tethered (often tenuously at times) to a folk-loving musical core. Old Canes can trace the roots of its sound to bands like Bright Eyes, Violent Femmes, Against Me!, and Neutral Milk Hotel, but there's this consistent rush of punk-ish energy, complete with that youthful genre's disdain for its music being finely tuned and precise, that really appeals to me.

Crisci gleefully has constructed a bunch of raucous, rollicking hoedowns here, complete with frequent call-and-response choruses and gang vocals that always complement his pleading lead vocals. As featured most prominently on tracks like "Little Bird Courage," "The Last Collapse," and "Trust," the frantic guitar strumming sets a frenetic pace that everyone must match or get left behind, especially the ever-present toy piano that always lends these innocent undertones to the music. Toss in the bleating horns that match the emotions in Crisci's voice, the runaway train feel to the drums and percussion, and the eerie atmosphere often created by the banjos and mandolins, and we've found ourselves an excellent soundtrack for a hip, postmodern, barn-burning square dance.

Granted, the problem with being unhinged is that you're welcoming the doors to fall off around you. Selections like "Sweet," "Under," "Stuck," and "Black Hill Chapel" find Crisci occasionally losing focus by dipping his toe a bit too deeply into the pools of sensitive balladry and front-porch jam sessions, followed up by a visit the padded free-jazz freak-out room. In an attempt to be as open-minded and open-ended as possible with this musical creation, the record can come across as a bit too slap-dash, thus weakening the strong elements of its overall sound.

Nevertheless, much like the band's critically acclaimed 2004 debut, Early Morning Hymns, Old Canes still seems to have sidestepped the familiar pitfalls of the side project by a wide margin here on Feral Harmonic. Kudos goes out to Crisci for simply playing the music he likes on his terms without feeling the need to pander to the deeply established fan base for Appleseed Cast, much less some trendy (and possibly mythological) demographic. I'll take another album chock-full of these eager folk-punk tunes any day of the week.
Feral Harmonic

Feral Harmonic

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Feral Harmonic

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