Eight years ago, guitarist/vocalist Justin Ringle relocated from his native Idaho to Portland, Ore., and very quickly shifted his stylistic allegiance from the aggressive Rock he had played at home to the gentler Folk sound that pervades the Northwest scene. Ringle formed Horse Feathers to pursue his newfound acoustic passion and garnered rabid fans and critical acclaim with his first three albums — 2006’s Plug Award-nominated Words Are Dead, 2008’s House With No Name and 2010’s Thistled Spring — with reviewers consistently pointing out the wonderful tension between the dark poignancy of Ringle’s lyrics and the expansive beauty of the music that surrounds them.
On the fourth Horse Feathers album, the just-released Cynic’s New Year, Ringle pushes his sound in a few fresh directions, incorporating 11 musicians and new instrumentation to create a dusty Chamber Pop atmosphere reminiscent of Eef Barzelay, Joe Pernice and Gomez (in its unplugged moments). At the same time, Ringle and his rotating crew don’t stray impossibly far from their established sonic profile, somewhere in the ballpark of Eddie Vedder playing an acoustic seance and collaborating with the ghost of Nick Drake. Regardless of Ringle’s choice of musical translation, his lyrics consistently strike a heartfelt chord as bruised confessional odes or reservedly optimistic lullabies that breathe and haunt and shimmer like friendly but far from happy manor ghosts.
For the current tour, Ringle and this iteration of Horse Feathers will be operating as a quintet, so the stripped down personnel will offer streamlined arrangements of the new songs and more fleshed out versions of the older, sparser material. Either way, prepare yourself for an emotional journey.
HORSE FEATHERS performs Monday, May 21 with Matt Bauer at The Comet in Northside. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.