Posted on November 2nd, 2009 (3:45 pm) by Bo Smothers

Apparently not everything in Kansas is flat. Not when faced with Lawrence, Kansas, a town in which musical ingenuity is just around every corner. All members of the musical collective Old Canes came from various bands around Lawrence. Through their diverse musical styles they came together to form Old Canes, one of the most promising folk rock bands going. Front man Christopher Crisci, formerly of Appleseed Cast, is the true architect of the group. After his success with the nearly single-handed recording of Old Canes’ first album, Early Morning Hymns, he began work on Feral Harmonic, in a similar self-sufficient style. The bulk of Feral Harmonic was recorded solely by Crisci, with various other artists of the collective laying down a track now and again, resulting in an outstanding sophomore album for the burgeoning folk rock collaboration.

The first song, aptly named “Intro”, sets the tone for the rest of the album, and begins its instrumental entirety by exhibiting the album's lo-fi recording style. The song begins simply enough with the repetition of a single, clean guitar phrase, then subtly begins to build, as instrument after instrument is seamlessly layered atop one another until it becomes more and more jangly and hectic and reaches a magnificent, chaotic crescendo. Then a steep drop-off and the rest of the band slides away, leaving only the lazily picked guitar phrase floating through the air, until it too ceases.

The following track, “Little Bird Courage”, is easily one of the best and most infectious songs on the album. A fast paced, merry drumbeat starts off the folksy jangle. Then, without so much as a hitch, Crisci’s buoyant, soulful vocals begin to rise and fall, keeping the cheery vibe marching forward throughout the song. Twangy acoustic guitars weave in and out of the driving, ever lively percussion and various other eclectic instruments, from toy piano to tambourine. The result is a whirlwind of folk drenched Americana, jovial brass bursts and a spirited persistence from the band to fill you with good vibes as you listen. The song ends on an emotional, hopeful note with a call and response between Crisci and the other members of the group, “When I’m thirsty / You are the fountain / In the face of danger / I’m not afraid,” leaving the listener hungry for more. Old Canes does not disappoint, and immediately following “Little Bird Courage,” we are gifted with “The Last Collapse”. It proves to be surprisingly simple, consisting only of spare guitar and drums. The track is noticeably more bare bones than previous songs. Near the middle of the song a sole keyboard is sprinkled over the track sparsely but elegantly, starkly contrasting the previous cavalcade of enveloping sounds heard on the previous two songs. The final product is a more lithe and concise folk song, but still one within the vein of Feral Harmonic’s predicted trajectory.

The next track, “Trust”, departs slightly from that trajectory, and delves into a more ponderous tone. In the song, the guitar is noticeably more clear and trebled. Following in the trend of the previous tracks, the song is led into by a finger picked guitar phrase, as the rest of the instruments trickle in one by one. However, Crisci’s singing is noticeably more subdued, as are his lyrics, and a slightly melancholy vibe hangs low over the song as it progresses, until about the 1:50 mark, where the song takes a distinct turn. After a short keyboard interlude, the song's volume is noticeably raised and the whole band joins in singing, raising their voices for a nearly shouted chorus as the song charges forward before stuttering charmingly to an end. Now, while the song may not put a damper on the cheerful vibe of Feral Harmonic, it certainly slows it from the headlong rush through fields of exuberant, earthy music that at times displays the last winkling of summer between the slats of its lyricism, displaying a more thoughtful side of the group.

The following two tracks, “Next Flood” and “Sweet”, display the group's post-rock and faster paced indie rock roots, and are comprised of manic, repetitive strumming and half shouted lyrics. While they are quite possibly the most explosive songs on the album, “Sweet” in particular lacks the complexity and evident folk tendencies of the previous tracks. The following tracks for the most part return to the jangly, high-spirited folk rock, and continue the lively tone of the album. That being said, each song still retains an individual flavor, distinct from both the songs before and after it. “I Will Be The Sun,” for instance is most notable for its soulful, emotionally charged lyrics and relaxed warm guitar backing. Meanwhile “Stuck”’s cumulative growth leaves the listener ponderous at the end of the song, how Crisci got from a single jangle to the cascading, festive avalanche at the end. Of the rest of the album, only “Under” seems to stray from the group. That is, until the song is listened to in full. While in its infancy the song is reminiscent of “Trust”’s tone and begins with a bluesy harmonica riff, as the songs gains speed and grows, not only does the tone of the instruments change, but the lyrics do as well. From “You planted the wings of the last golden horse / under the weeds they were sown,” to “ Where have you gone? / Straight to my heart,” “Under”’s tone demonstrates a miraculous change and ends the song on a light note.

Altogether, Feral Harmonic leaves the listener thoroughly satisfied and perhaps more wholesome for the experience. For days after one will find the catchy folk jingles rattling around their brain, adding cheer to their daily lives. Feral Harmonic is an enormous success for a band releasing their sophomore album, and has the bravery and cohesion of a much more mature, organized unit, stemming from the ever-rotating band members' enormous amount of musical experience. We can expect great things from Old Canes' future efforts, and I eagerly await their next release.

Track List:
1. Intro (1:53)
2. Little Bird Courage (4:12)
3. The Last Collapse (2:59)
4. Trust (3:18)
5. Next Flood (2:54)
6. Sweet (5:57)
7. Under (2:04)
8. I Will Be The Sun (3:04)
9. Stuck (4:12)
10. Flower Faces (3:50)
11. Black Hill Chapel (3:18)
12. Southern Radio (2:30)

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