Autumn in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a setting that serves as the backdrop for many a resident and tourist, lining the pages of travel logs and tweets during the ending months of a year. People take refuge from the darker days and the cold nights in the borough’s many shops and music venues. It was under these exact conditions that Virginia native band, Feral Conservatives, found themselves in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Black Bear Bar, where the group were concluding a brief but hectic tour; the last leg of preparation for their full length debut with EggHunt Records, already mapped out through to the new year.
Here now, in the very beginnings of 2016, that map has served its purpose and the always surprising trio of Rashie Rosenfarb (mandolin/vocals), Matt Francis (drums/feedback), and Dan Avant (bass) is ready to unleash their fearless flavor of “mandolin indie rock” on the world, this Friday, 22 January 2016. Titled, “Here’s to Almost,” the full length follows a four track EP, “The Feeling Noise Becomes (EggHunt), released just under a year ago, last February.
An 11 song release, just the title – “Here’s to Almost” – sets somewhat of a perplexing impression that, while initially sounding optimistic, ultimately feels like someone cheering for an effort that never quite reached its full potential. Such a sentiment isn’t exactly what one would want to imagine or see come to pass in a band’s career. Don’t stop at the surface though. There’s an under layer of appreciation and enthusiasm for the fervor seemingly required for bands whose “elusive breakthrough” – as Francis refers to it – hasn’t unfolded just yet.
“There’s that sort of self-deprecati[on] or reality [check] where we noticed how all of our big, “breakout” shows or dalliances with the [music] industry didn’t really pan out in that elusive break through moment. We’re always chasing those big opportunities but, looking back, it seems that so much of what we love is spent in the grind, the hometown bar gigs or, just recording and releasing an album we’re proud of. “Here’s to Almost” is the hindsight of that.”
Francis continues, elaborating further on the essence of “almost” for the band:
“[S]ometimes the best moments of our lives are spent in the ‘almost.’ As a kid, it was the day before Christmas; the anticipation before actually getting what you want. Sometimes the almost in our head is better than the realization or materialization of the thing.”
This dual layered insight to the collective mindset of Feral Conservatives is revealing on a factual level, while also helping to inject an extra emotional punch into the energy of the album as a whole –solidifying a foundation of thematic cohesion that might go otherwise undervalued. Some of the tracks (“Last Light,” “Acrylics,” “Twenty Eight”) speak lyrically, to a treasuring of/yearning for/frustration with the past. Others turn to face the flip side, trying to make the most of whatever (limited) situation in which one might find themselves (“Complacent,” “Bus Driver”).
Musically, Feral Conservatives offer a diverse course of deliveries on “Almost,” that skate unabashedly between the rowdy noise and rocking drive the trio is known for (“Logan’s Song,”) and, a lighter, more singable aesthetic (“Pacific Child”). The latter makes Rosenfarb’s instrument of choice, the band’s arrangements and production decisions, occasionally steer artistic correlations strongly toward jangly, alternative pop rock straight out of the late 90s with slices of Sixpence None the Richer or The Cranberries. Either way, it becomes virtually impossible not to end up wanting to dance or humming a few of Rosenfarb’s vocal bars here and there long after the songs are finished.
These band associations shouldn’t be seen as a deficit or a lazy move to “jump on the 90s hype” bandwagon. The album inarguably pays attention to the thoughts surrounding nostalgia but, this is in part due to sonic similarities capable of being drawn from Feral Conservatives’ long established band arrangement and also due in part to the group’s desire for reflection after reaching another point of industry noted completion. The entirety of “Almost” presents itself as something intended to help Feral Conservatives see how both the album and the band itself, fit against the backdrop of where they are in present reality versus what they projected when the aspirations of “Almost” were first conceived. Beyond the sonic colors of “Almost,” the theme of past reflection is further emphasized through the very artwork gracing the record’s cover.
“The photo [that is the album cover] struck me the first time I saw it,” Francis explains. “Rashie was showing me a bunch of childhood Polaroids and as soon as I saw that picture, it really stuck with me. I think the colors – the kind of golden hue of it – really matched [“Here’s to Almost”] sonically. You can see those same tones and colors in our first music video off the album for ‘Last Light,’ I’ve always felt like those golden, orange tones are the color of nostalgia.”
In a straight play through of “Almost,” the listener is taken through a well-worn scrapbook, bridging all manner of emotions alongside the record’s cumulative reflections. Sometimes, like in the case of the track, “Little Pieces,” the trio employ clever mix and match with a more upward moving melody that imparts one impression, directly against the lyrics that tell a story of vastly contrasting proportions (“And I’d rather be any other place / Let me go / When I cannot hear your voice in this space / Where’d you go / Let me go”).
“[S]ometimes the best moments of our lives are spent in the ‘almost.'”
If Feral Conservatives are to take anything away from the finalized work they have created with “Almost,” it’s a sentiment that’s perhaps as duality driven as the album itself. The trio’s ability to move seamlessly along a spectrum of compositional intensity allows them to align with anything from folk rock to garage noise, and even the more traditional sounds of Americana/bluegrass. (There are subtle echoes of Nickel Creek stylization à la “Hanging By a Thread,” sewn into “Acrylics.”) This tonal fluidity comes across as genuine and appropriate, rather than as forced pandering. That part of who they are as a group should stay and grow. Along the same lines however, there are moments on the album where a bit more instrumental evolution or fleshing out of the pieces would serve the music well –with notable exception given to the band’s highly charged and stepped up redux of “Class Reunion” from “The Feeling Noise Becomes.” Undoubtedly however, this space for structural improvement is one that will fill naturally with more time and life experiences.
While Feral Conservatives wait for the future of their lives to become the new present, their past embodied in the form of this album is likely to last listeners well through many plays, seasons of change and feelings of their own –the latter of which is definitely not going to leave people thinking, “the almost in [my] head [was] better.”
“Here’s to Almost” drops via EggHunt Records, this Friday, 22 January 2016.
The record was recorded in Chesapeake, Virginia, at Earthsound Recordings. Engineering and mixing was done by Mark Padgett and mastering was done by Peter Linnane at Patch Hill Mastering in Boston, MA.
Pre-orders are open now and come with instant access to the tracks “Last Light” and “Wait for Me.”
The band are kicking off another whirlwind mini-tour with a record store release day show in Richmond, Virginia. Venue and ticket info is below:
Keep up with Feral Conservatives through their official website and these social media platforms: