Sometimes a record takes a while to grow on you. Sometimes it takes a few listens to really get what a band is going for, or what makes them different from dozens of other bands. On the other hand, sometimes you press play and the band’s selling point imprints itself on your eardrums almost immediately. Dead Feathers sound like a better Dead Meadow fronted by Florence Welch (as in, the one with The Machine), and I don’t make that comparison lightly. Their selling point is that singer Marissa Allen is really good. You’ll notice this within a minute of putting any of their music on. Not that there’s been much of this to date: they have an EP out, but after nearly a decade All Is Lost is Dead Feathers‘ first full length.
All that practice paid off. Dead Feathers‘ upbeat psychedelic rock is polished and consistent, with Allen’s fantastic voice as centerpiece. The obvious comparison is classic psych singers like Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Opening track “At the Edge” is a great showcase. At the start, her voice is warm and almost fragile against a rolling drumbeat and shimmering guitars. As the song progresses the intensity picks up, with voice picking up a slight noise filter as it gets louder, leading the instruments until finally the distorted guitar kicks in. (This is also a great example of how to do an intro as an actual song.) At full power on tracks like “Cordova” and “Horse and Sands,” she reminds me of Elin Larsson of the Blues Pills. Tracks like “Smoking Gun” show her at her versatile best, with all the above plus husky jazz vocals and more. Technically she’s also extremely good, with neat vibrato and pitch-perfect challenging vocal runs, such as on “With Me.”
This definitely isn’t a vocal solo project, with an instrumental section right out of the modern psych playbook, driven by their warm, fuzz-drenched guitar tone. Dead Meadow is the closest comparison in style, but Dead Feathers have better riffs. The guitars churn out catchy, wandering melodies from the Esben and the Witch-esque atmospheric picked cleans on “At the Edge” to the fuzzy end of Wolfmother‘s work on “All Is Lost.” At the heavier end of the spectrum, “Horse and Sands” deploys terrific driving riffs that recall Kyuss. Drums and bass are no slouches either, with jammy grooves on tracks like “Cordova” and “With Me.” None of this is exactly groundbreaking, though, and Allen’s rich vocals are the highlight.
Every song on the first half of the album is excellent, with the heavier “Horse and Sands” perhaps the best. This does mean that the second half isn’t quite as good, but that’s largely a pacing decision. The songs here are less immediate, slower, and more exploratory. None of these are bad things, it’s just such a noticeable transition from the relentless first half that it feels like a let down. On the plus side, the production does the album a great service, giving everything a wonderful warm, rich tone which really enhances the fuzzy psychedelic feel. The DR9 master lets the loud passages thunder and the vocals soar.
There are definitely some things to nitpick on All Is Lost. A little reshuffling might have smoothed out the A-side/B-side feel. Dead Feathers are certainly not going to win any prizes for originality playing a fifty-year-old genre this straight, albeit with better production than the genre’s heyday, and I’d like to see them step outside their comfort zone a bit more on the next record. There’s plenty to explore even within the loose confines of psychedelic rock, demonstrated by the proggier style of bands like Black Mountain. But there’s no major weak points here, and ultimately, with songs this polished and a singer this good, it’s hard to care about nitpicking.