2) Little Bird Courage
3) The Last Collapse
5) Next Flood
8) I Will Be the Sun
10) Flowers Faces
11) Black Hill Chapel
12) Southern Radio
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Old Canes is the side project of Chris Crisci of post-rock favorites The Appleseed Cast, and like a good side project should, has relatively little in common with the artist’s main act. After taking three and a half years between albums, Old Canes is once again pulling the plug on all things electric to get a little more personal, a little more inclusive, and a little more Midwestern.
We’ve seen the acoustic-centered singer/songwriter thing before, but with Feral Harmonic the band’s second album, Old Canes manages to succeed where so many others have failed. The most immediately striking thing about this record is that it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to a record at all. Rather, Feral Harmonic sounds like the band is in the room with you, a clever production choice indeed. It’s a gathering of down-home musicianship with all the feeling of a group of friends getting together for an intimate jam session. Consisting of an acoustic guitar, drums, cello, and a variety of auxiliary instruments, the record lacks any real bass, allowing the songs to breathe in an undefined open space. These elements all lend themselves marvelously to the crucial element of authenticity that is so often lacking in a genre where it is especially needed.
In Kansas, where Old Canes is from, the endless ocean of flat, earth-toned farmland makes everything feel familiar. Crisci’s lyrics and melodies support this aesthetic, never straying from their heartfelt approach and obvious sincerity. On “Next Flood” when Crisci gently whispers, “And I am lost without you,” in a lilting refrain, that sense of helplessness is immediate and identifiable in its universality. Similarly on “Little Bird Courage,” we can all revel in Crisci’s appreciation of love and understanding when he joyously shouts, “When I’m thirsty / You are a fountain / In the face of danger / I’m unafraid / As long as you’re here.” Set to the backdrop of a fast-paced gait and blaring trumpets, it’s impossible not to smile and nod your head in agreement with his sentiments.
Overall, Feral Harmonic is quite the departure from the work Crisci is known for, and it exists as a shining star amongst the current roster of Saddle Creek artists. Full of rollicking Midwestern hymns of love, trust, and inspiration, Feral Harmonic is a refreshing take on the acoustic aesthetic popularized by fellow Midwesterner Connor Oberst and his work with Bright Eyes. Full of rattling tambourines, tinny banjos, and heart-on-its-sleeve honesty, each song screams its sincerity and reeks of credibility. Let’s hope the next Old Canes record isn’t too far down the line.