Two weeks. That’s how long The Features had to work up roughly a dozen new tunes before they traveled some 2500 miles from their native Tennessee to Vancouver, Washington to make their new album, The Features (Serpents and Snakes/BMG). There, the Nashville-based band spent a month crafting the most inventive and assured album of their career. But when the four members first set up shop in the cabin-esque confines of Ripcord Studio, what they’d come out of there with was anybody’s guess.”A lot of it seemed pretty spontaneous,” says the band’s frontman, Matthew Pelham. “Because we didn’t solidify anything, really, in those two weeks of practicing. So when we got there, there were a lot of loose ends to tie up.”
It wasn’t just a bold move, but a dramatic change of pace for a band that’s been praised as one of best live rock combos around. Over the years, they’ve served up slice after slice of hook-fueled brilliance – with subtle nods to new wave, ’60s garage, southern rock, Krautrock and beyond – and perfected them over the course of countless shows and constant retooling in their practice space. Capturing their thrilling, stage-tested sound was a no-brainer on previous albums. But for The Features, Pelham and his bandmates – keyboardist Mark Bond, bassist Roger Dabbs and drummer Rollum Haas – were game to shake things up. Just two months away from the release of their hailed 2011 album Wilderness, they decided that they weren’t going to wait another two or three years to start work on the follow-up. They’d make it in the two months they had to spare. That meant that almost none of the songs pegged for The Features had been performed in front of an audience – and several were still works-in-progress when the band arrived in Vancouver. “I don’t think we really had any expectations,” Pelham says. “We just thought, ‘Let’s do it differently.’”
From their first night in town – when they loaded into the studio and immediately started firming up the song they were set to track the next day – the band didn’t flinch at the task at hand. With no time for second-guessing, they embraced a slew of previously untapped sonics and styles, resulting in their most adventurous set of songs yet. Lead-off cut “Rotten” is a bold, multi-movement stunner, veering from serene synth-pop to proto-metal riffs, flirting with anthemic “Who’s Next” arena-rock before shrinking back to its starting point. “This Disorder” – an instant classic in The Features’ esteemed catalog – throbs with a tense funk pulse, jagged guitar swipes and staccato synth lines, as Pelham’s tightly wound vocal offers words of caution in the scatterbrained smartphone age. “New Romantic” and “Ain’t No Wonder” similarly straddle the line between classic new wave and Bowie-styled soul. But the album is thoroughly modern, too, particularly in the wide-open spaces of shimmering rockers “With Every Beat” and “In Your Arms.” Add it all up, and The Features is the sound of a band that’s wholly comfortable with where they are – and know exactly where they want to head next.