The Felice Brothers

The Felice Brothers

Yellowbirds, Mail the Horse

Mon, December 31, 2012

Doors: 8:30 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

$40

Sold Out

This event is 21 and over

The Felice Brothers
The Felice Brothers
The Felice Brothers’ new album Life in the Dark, due June 24 on Yep Roc, is classic American music. At once plainspoken and deeply literate, the band’s latest features nine new songs that capture the hopes and fears, the yearning and resignation, of a rootless, restless nation at a time of change.

Life in the Dark also coincides with The Felice Brothers’ 10th anniversary as a band. Hailed by the AV Club for a sound at once “timeless, yet tossed-off,” they’ve released plenty of music over the past decade, often on their own without a record label, but the new album is the fullest realization yet of the band’s DIY tendencies. Self-produced by the musicians and engineered by James Felice (who also contributed accordion, keyboards and vocals), the Felice Brothers made Life in the Dark themselves in a garage on a farm in upstate New York, observed only by audience of poultry.

“The recording is definitely rough around the edges and cheap,” James Felice says, laughing. “It was liberating and really cool to do. It allowed us to untether ourselves from anything and just make music.”

Because of makeshift studio set-up, the music they made was necessarily stripped down, emphasizing acoustic instruments and spacious arrangements on songs that showcase the sound of a band playing together live, with echoes in the music of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and rural blues.

“We tried to make it as simple and folk-based as possible, because we were working with limited resources,” singer and guitarist Ian Felice says. “We wanted to take all the frills out and make it just meat and potatoes.”

Still, there are hints of seasoning: among the folk and blues touchstones, the band took a certain inspiration from Neil Young and the Meat Puppets, too. Ian Felice says he was trying to channel the spirit of Meat Puppets II on opener “Aerosol Ball” — “They played kind of weird, freaky folk music, so there’s a connection there,” he says — while James Felice says listening to Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night was like getting permission to make Life in the Dark.

“If you listen to that record, it’s fucking crazy,” he says. “We listened to that to know that what we were doing was legal and had precedent. If Neil Young could make a record that sounds like that, we can make a record that sounds like this.”

He’s referring to the wild, whirling accordion and big, loose rhythm on “Aerosol Ball,” mournful glimmers of electric guitar and fiddle on “Triumph ’73” and the ramshackle, blues-rock feel of “Plunder,” full of grainy lead guitars, blasts of organ and a shout-along chorus inspired by the rhythm of Shakespeare’s “Double, double toil and trouble” incantation in Macbeth. Though The Felice Brothers often share songwriting duties, the band gravitated toward Ian Felice’s songs for Life in the Dark.

Along with Shakespeare and the Meat Puppets, Ian Felice absorbed the essence of writers from Anne Sexton to Anne Frank, Raymond Carver to Dr. Seuss, on tunes with clear, if unintentional, political undertones. “It’s just what was going on when I was writing the songs,” Ian Felice says. “It’s a pretty politically charged climate right now.” To say the least.

The singer’s characters on “Aerosol Ball” exist in a dystopian culture bought, and ruled, by corporations; while “Jack at the Asylum” catalogs cultural ills including climate change, economic inequality and the numbing aspects of televised warfare, themes that recur again on “Plunder.” He wrote the title track after re-reading The Diary of a Young Girl, the journal that Frank kept while in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. “The idea of living in a dark attic unable to fully grasp what is going on in your life and feeling powerless to change it seemed like a relevant metaphor for me at the time,” Ian Felice says.


Elsewhere, he offers his own interpretation of classic American archetypes: “Triumph ’73” follows a young man on the cusp of adulthood desperate to ride his motorcycle away from the life changes overtaking him, while the ballad “Diamond Bell” tells the story of a folk heroine gunslinger in the vein of Pretty Boy Floyd or Jesse James, and the hapless, lovestruck kid she ensnares. “It’s part-love song, part-adventure story, part-tragedy, told in the Mexican folk tradition of singing about bandits,” Ian Felice says. “I think it’s one of the most straight-ahead narratives I’ve written.”

The band, also including Josh Rawson on bass and Greg Farley on fiddle, with drums by David Estabrook, spent about a month recording Life in the Dark in the late winter of 2015. James Felice learned engineering on the fly — “I literally had a book, like, ‘Where do you put the mic? How do you mic the kick drum?’” he says — and the band managed to nail most of the tunes within a few takes.

“There wasn’t too much agonizing, just the joy of playing music,” James Felice says. “We had an audience of chickens, and an audience of each other, and we were just really enjoying making it.”

The resulting album is more than just classic American music — it’s a parable for modern America.
Yellowbirds
Yellowbirds
Songs from the Vanished Frontier, the second album from New York’s Yellowbirds, includes love songs and breakup songs, happy numbers and sad numbers, tunes about not believing in the truth and, alternately, tunes about delivering it. There’s bracing rock ’n’ roll and bubbling folk, drifting jangle and swiveling R&B. But the thread that unites these nine instantly affecting songs is their search to find the signal amid the noise—that is, to understand the world and its whirlwind and to deliver just a little bit of clarity every three or four minutes. “What have I believed in?” Sam Cohen sings toward the end of the title track, his voice a near-murmur that peeks out from beneath the ashes of a smoldering empire. “How will I deceive me now?”

That quest for answers and assurance suits Cohen’s backstory: After the 2009 end of his longtime vehicle for wild, radiant anthems and experiments, Apollo Sunshine, Cohen thought his musical career might be over. But a clutch of songs he wrote in his bedroom soon found currency with a few New York musicians, and they started developing and playing them under the name Yellowbirds. The band’s 2011 debut, The Color, received favorable reviews, with Pitchfork Media noting that the record espoused “an endearing raggedness … as though Cohen invited you into his living room.”

Vanished Frontier hinges on the same intimacy, but you’d never mistake it for a living room project. Indeed, for the first time, Cohen and his now full-time band (drummer Brian Kantor, singer/bassist Annie Nero, her husband and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman) had their own studio in which to build the new songs and sounds.
“I knew the sonic possibilities were broader than ever before, so I made a point to write the entire album on an acoustic guitar before delving into recording,” says Cohen. “I wanted to believe in the songs in their rawest form.”

Again, he wanted to keep the signal clear from the noise, and that’s precisely what Vanished Frontier achieves. It’s not a fussy album, overpopulated by a load of special guests and strange accessories. And Cohen’s brilliant guitar playing is never flashy so much as it is functional, sending simple lines through a web of carefully chosen effects to help illustrate the stories he sings. On “Vanished Frontier,” for instance, the arid guitar seems to be shaking its world-weary head every time Cohen uncovers another lie; during the lovelorn equivocation of “Mean Maybe,” the six-string solo warps the blues into a pattern that’s as fractured as Cohen’s feelings.

That’s not to say, of course, that these songs are spare or stripped in any way. This is still Sam Cohen, of course, draping and dressing these tunes with spectral harmonies and backmasked voices, decorative percussion and interwoven textures. It’s just that these songs now stand on their own and then glow in the presence of the band and the studio. In the end, then, the noise supports the signal.
Mail the Horse
Mail the Horse
The story begins years prior to Mail the Horse, when a ragtag group of musicians and artists gathered weekly in woodsheds, kitchens or wherever they could find space in coastal New Hampshire to share their work and collectively scratch an artistic itch none of them could reach on his own. In this setting, longtime songwriting partners Michael Hesslein & Michael “Donny” Amidon and rhythm section Brendan Smith & William Lawrence discovered they shared substantial common ground in their musical tastes, and bonded over a love for timeless rock & roll, the short-fiction of Raymond Carver, and outsider folk music.

During the winter of 2010, through situations both fortunate and less so, the four friends found themselves sharing a dilapidated Bushwick duplex next door to a motorcycle club. It served as a home and recording studio, and hosted dozens of travelers, eventually becoming known as Gates Motel. In the summer of 2011 Chris May passed through, who once had a weekly gig with Brendan playing Kinks covers at a London bar. After hearing MTH, Chris learned the pedal steel guitar, joined the band, and the current formation was born.

Mail the Horse has spent the past four years synthesizing decades of influences, from Gram Parsons to Nick Cave, into powerfully executed folk-rock. The music conveys the fraternal bond of the members and an attitude that could only be carved out by New York City. Playing countless shows in NYC, from a sold-out NYE supporting The Felice Brothers to a backyard kegger hosting some of Nashville’s finest bands, and several national tours, Mail the Horse are in that small class of DIY bands who drag keyboards and pedal steel into punk houses. Their music has matured and swaggers with the best of them, and the new record, Planet Gates, brings their expert songcraft to the forefront.
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002
http://mercuryloungenyc.com