Back in the old days, the battered turntable I bought for five bucks at a yard sale always had space on the platter for bands like the Posies. The Sundays. Jelleyfish. Edie Brickell and her New Bohemians. So it’s not surprising that I’ve fallen immediately in love with the infectious charm contained on “Better Lives.”
While the Prog Rock styling of Galaxy Dynamite was something I had to work at to get, the new album from Feral Conservatives is like running into an old friend from college who I adored but lost track of. Digging beyond the surface, it makes sense that the work here was co-produced and mixed by Jon Auer — who was a fixture of that era of music with membership both in the aforementioned Posies and Big Star. And while I firmly believe that Demons has the best local record of the year, this one is probably my personal favorite.
To really feel Feral Conservatives, I think you need to understand the power of a singer-songwriter like Aimee Mann. Indeed, front-woman Rashie Rosenfarb shares much in common both vocally and writing-wise with the former star of Til Tuesday, who went on to release the near-and-dear-to-my-heart “Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo.” This record feels tonally like a metaphorical daughter of that.
The sound is their most polished to date, as the group has grown from the initial mandolin/drums point/counterpoint of Rosenfarb and Matt Francis. By the time I first discovered them they had added Dan Avant to skillfully layer the acoustics with a bottom end, and in the last year or so the quad was completed with Zach Jones on guitar.
There are moodier tones in the lyrics than I recall from their past work, a palpable sense of tumult and strife that belies the generally upbeat Folk-tinged brattiness that defines the bands overall sonics. Let’s be real: there’s not many bands running a lead electric mandolinist. It would be easy to coast on the novelty of that alone, but the group packs a punch with some supremely smart songwriting underneath some deceptively catchy Alt Pop. Garage Folk? Acoustic Punk? I’m still not sure how to label this music beyond the fact that I greatly enjoy it.
This is a fun, delightful record that also manages to pack emotional heft. It makes me feel young listening to it, as though I’ve stepped back in time to the late eighties/early nineties. It’s an album I would have run to the record store to pick up when I was twenty — you know, back when people bought music in record stores whose names have long faded.
None of that is to imply that Feral Conservatives sound dated in any way with this new work — but they remind me so much of that era that I can almost feel the scratchy plaid flannels I sported back then. It makes me want to wear long sleeves under short sleeves and hit the bars (that aren’t actually there anymore) over on Hampton Boulevard. Where I would almost immediately be mocked for crimes against fashion. I especially love the tracks “Cat Song,” “Sun Room,” and “Chimney Love,” but honestly — everything about this record is win.
This is a band that is growing up quickly, and this is an album that I’ll listen to for many years to come.
Go buy it. It’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.