I hadn’t heard of Feathers before they were put on the bill for Fun Fun Fun Fest. In fact, it doesn’t seem like they were much of a band before that performance. I watched from the shade of one of the few trees in the back of the Blue Stage as these women played dark, dated synth-pop on a hot, sweaty afternoon in November. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but the group’s forthcoming debut shows the potential that was lurking even then.
The aggravatingly un-Google-able Feathers (oh, how in these moments I long for an Ola Podrida) is the brainchild of Anastasia Dimou. A few years ago, Dimou moved to Austin from New York City because the desert called to her. While not a desert town in and of itself, Austin is probably the biggest, hippest music city near to the desert. Phoenix? Too soul-sucking. Santa Fe? Too tiny. El Paso? Only At the Drive-In and the Dirty River Boys have come from there, and Dimou’s sound isn’t close to either. Austin sits on the brink of endless West Texas nothingness, and Dimou has somehow channeled this spirit through synthesizers and spit out eerie dance music.
The closest local referents to what Feathers are doing are Knifight, A Sky Jet Black or the seemingly moribund Motel Aviv. Feathers, however, seem to be one of those bands that is removed from the Austin scene (Perhaps they’re similar to Letting Up Despite Great Faults in that sense? Though the sounds are close, LUDGF seems to play around town more than Feathers.). Instead, they beg for comparisons to Joy Division and Depeche Mode. Apparently, Martin Gore of Depeche Mode picked them to open for the British synth pioneers at SXSW because they were billed as “the female Depeche Mode;” the description couldn’t be more apt.Feathers - 'Land of the Innocent'
When the music video for “Land of the Innocent” was released back in February, I didn’t know what to make of it partially because it sounded so much like an 80s synth-pop song. It was almost anachronistic. The desert imagery was reminiscent of Mad Max, which didn’t help make it any more contemporary. Yet, in listening to the full If All Now Here, due out next month, two things are obvious: 1) Feathers maintain such a consistent sound that the album’s ten tracks flow seamlessly; and 2) there are enough contemporary touches for the music to fit well alongside other current releases.
A song like the standout “Dark Matter” (at this point, my nomination for best song on the album) is built on a stuttering, sort of reggaeton-ish beat, and is filled out by a winding synthesized arpeggio. Mixed in with so very 80s-sounding effects in the low end, this is almost the perfect distillation of Feathers’ strengths: mining the 80s for inspiration and filtering it through the 21st century.
This “formula” is executed so well across the album that it’s easy to be overtaken by the dark atmosphere Feathers puts together. For example, there’s the pulsating “Fire in the Night” that comes across vaguely Muse-ish – just run through some old-school synthesizers. “Familiar So Strange” could have been a hit for La Roux, produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. By the time you get to “Leaves Start Trembling” near the end, Dimou’s desert vision has clearly been realized. Her breathy voice floats through a dark, empty wilderness, infusing her cold metallic surroundings with some human warmth.
If All Now Here is due out May 28th. Keep an eye out for it, and catch Feathers live the next chance you get.
– Carter Delloro