“On Horse Feathers’ sixth album, their introverted persona has thawed, revealing a surprising affinity for the joy of Stax-era and countrified-soul.” —Pitchfork
“…from Justin Ringle’s sandy-voiced warmth to lush string arrangements to fatalistic lyrics that undercut the surrounding swirl of sonic comfort food.” —NPR
“The arrangements are beautiful, borderline orchestral, and contribute to an expanding Horse Featherssoundscape… Horse Feathers are forging a new way forward.” —Exclaim!
“Horse Feathers has evolved expertly, and Appreciation is a case study in artistic growth.” —Pop Matters
Horse Feathers, and their re-imagined string ensemble of seasoned players are returning to the road in the spring of 2022 in support of their April, Kill Rock Stars re-issue of their 2008 breakthrough release “House With No Home.” Justin Ringle and longtime violinist Nathan Crockett will be backed by new additions of upright bass (Luke Ydstie: The Hackles, Blind Pilot), banjo (Kati Claborn: The Hackles, Blind Pilot) and violin (Halli Anderson: River Whyless). The group will be performing selections from “House With No Home” as well as old favorites, highlighting the acoustic characteristics of earlier orchestral arrangements as well as the energy of recent releases.
Nick Delffs grew up in Mendocino County, a lawless stretch of coastline that’s hard to get to and, for many, hard to escape. Nick did — emerging in the early aughts as the frontman for Portland band The Shaky Hands, whose sharp, jittery rock was anchored by Nick’s quavering vocals and questing lyrics. The Shaky Hands were mainstays of Portland on the verge of a major shift, and they rode that shift a while, signing to Kill Rock Stars and touring internationally with some of the bigger names in indie rock. But a hiatus in 2011 became indefinite and Nick Delffs was once again cast into the world: working as a sideman, releasing solo records, doing manual labor, going deeper into his spiritual practices, and, crucially, becoming a father.
Becoming a parent can affect different artists in different ways. Nick rode that change with surpassing grace and maturity. 2017’s Redesign, his first full-length under his own name, reflected the transition. In “Song for Aja”, Nick touched on other concerns familiar to those who follow his work: love of the natural world; longing for spiritual and physical connection; the desire to suffer with meaning and exult with abandon, to embrace somehow the world in its maddening contradictions and find the unity at the core.
Childhood Pastimes, his second release on Mama Bird Recording Co., is both more focused and, despite being technically an EP, more ambitious. It’s a four-song cycle — one song with many movements or four songs that bleed into one another, depending on how you hear it — that can be viewed either as a personal journey or an archetypal passage of a human being through four discrete stages: roughly, the movement from childhood innocence into adolescent adventure (The Escape); the sudden immersion into a life of discovery and excitement (The Dream); the first experience of romantic love, followed by the onset of heartbreak, dissolution, breakdown of self (The Affair); the emergence into a new way of thinking, a fresh perspective that encompasses all the suffering and joy into a balanced whole (The Outside).
Nick plays nearly all of the instruments here and the result is a unified aesthetic, born ultimately of his deep-seated love of rhythm: the thrum and throb of the acoustic guitars, the percussive melodic bang of the elegantly-crafted piano lines, and always, always the insistent, driving drums, propelling the record, and the listener, on this journey as the four tracks bleed into one another, one body, one blood, one beating heart. The concept of four songs that are really one suite of music requires a sure hand, and Nick’s never shakes: the way the songs blend together while retaining their distinctiveness — from the poppy exaltation of “The Escape” to the cold intensity, almost like an acoustic Kraftwerk, of “The Affair” — shows a songwriter and musician who has fully grown into his powers.
Those who have followed Nick’s career may see this as a culmination of years and years of honing and fine-tuning his bountiful gifts, and wonder with delight what might come next. For those who haven’t listened to Nick before, Childhood Pastimes is the perfect entry point, a distillation of what’s come before and the promise of a new beginning.