Cynic's New Year - Horse Feathers (Kill Rock Stars) 

The group’s dark, tattered and immersive folk-rock deepens in nuance

There's value in a band that plugs away at its chosen niche without the constant drive for reinvention; blogosphere be damned, fine songs well sung show ambition aplenty and are a perfect measure of the creative restlessness that Justin Ringle shows with Horse Feathers. The only major change to the group's dark, tattered and immersive folk-rock has been a deepening of nuance in music of almost painterly beauty, devoid of precious or bland trappings. You need simply to hear "A Heart Arcane" and the wondrous "Fit Against the Country" to recognize the purity and seriousness of an uncompromised rootsiness that's felt rather than affected.

An unlikely comparison for Horse Feathers' evocative variations on a theme is New Zealand's jangle-pop stalwarts the Bats — remarkably consistent over decades, they continue to chip away and lovingly experiment with a sumptuous sound that deliberately ignores passing trends. Cynic's New Year is slightly overlong and at times exhibits a lyrical insularity, but Ringle is working hard at slowly unfurling the masterpiece lurking under the surface here, and you never lose faith that someday he'll find it.

More by Nathan Phillips

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