No one in this band is named Duncan Fellows. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s five college kids in an indie folk band, and they all have names like Cullen or Colin. They’re fairly new to the scene, having played their first shows around this time last year. They released this EP, Twelve Months Older, in September, without any fanfare or a high-profile show – yet four months later, every track on the album is sitting at a three-bar popularity rating on Spotify, which is more than the majority of Austin bands can say. Somebody’s listening, and it’s clear why.
Duncan Fellows’ general sound follows the indie folk formula: start with an acoustic guitar lick to get the chord changes in motion, then layer on drums, mandolin, cello, maybe some piano or bells. Throw some arpeggiated banjo and charming boy/girl vocals into the mix and you’ve got a proven stew. Now, even a mechanical band might come off halfway endearing following that recipe, but Duncan Fellows shows certain promise because of how masterfully they pull it off. (And when naiveté is the name of the game, that’s often harder than it sounds.) This EP’s only four songs long, so let’s take it track-by-track, shall we?
“Twelve Months Older” – From the get-go, singer Colin Harman plays a confident frontman, taking the listener through an unassuming series of shifts in tempo and mood. His voice curls around each syllable with a delicate poignancy; in turn, the band swells and falls along with his words. By the time a given riff might have gone stale, the band has moved onto a new section – it’s this giddy penchant for exploration that gives Duncan Fellows their youthful charm.
“Stolen Black Cars” – This one features some of the most impactful lyrics, tactfully written so that the picture gradually comes into focus as painted by Harman’s breathy tenor. “People love like the leaves of autumn: beautiful, kind, indefinitely fallen,” he sings over plucked guitar. Vocalist Margot Stevenson joins in with a coy harmony, and the two eventually build together into full-voiced chorus with wistful cello wailing behind.
“Rich Man” – Perhaps the most musically straightforward of the bunch, it’s essentially a five-minute build; yet when Harman goes an octave up and wails, “I may never be a rich man, at least not like you know / but I’ll find my wealth in something else, like the words you said in July,” his terse sketch of a past relationship comes alive with bittersweet nostalgia.
“Arrow” – This piano-driven piece serves as the melancholy closer. The title hints at ascension, as does the refrain, a plea to “come upstairs and be free.” Yet the lyrics tell of a scene where friends sit around mourning a recent death. This kind of dichotomy, between dejection and hope, between life and its absence, features prominently throughout the release, and it’s appropriate that the closer should sum up the problem so succinctly.
Overall, Twelve Months Older is tight and unexpectedly substantial, a singular and purposeful expression of love and loss with a folksy backdrop. If you’re into indie-minded pop-folk with its heart laid bare (i.e. Page France, Avett Brothers, or locals like Wild Child or Danny Malone), give this up-and-coming band a listen.
– Kevin Allen