Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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Michael Feuerstack has been writing songs for a long time and sadly, most of his catalog goes unheard by the masses. Much like his moniker describes, his songs seems to exist underneath an impenetrable shell that protects the fragile subject matter and hides his existence. Hopefully with the release of Lies on the Prize, that shell is one he will soon outgrow.
Spare. Emotional. Powerful. Much Like fellow Canadian song writing stalwart Hayden, these are words that can be used to describe Feuerstack's past output, but like the Hardwood Records founder, it seems like Feuerstack's musical preference (if not his outlook on life) has become sunnier in the last few years.
His words still hit with the force of a tidal wave and the honesty of a religious man, but the tunes that carry them along are bursting with life. The record opens up with the delicate picked riff of Dollar Signs, but after the first verse the drums and backing instruments kick in and transform the gentle folk song into a much fuller affair. Beautiful strings, xylophone, and pedal steel dance alongside his words and you quickly realize this might not be your standard Snailhouse record... and the delightful double negative that is (Not) Superstitious confirms the fact.
The melody bounces along as Feuerstack crafts an arrangement that could easily be slipped into a Sea Wolf set and no one would be the wiser. Nothing seems complex on first listen, but every detail - slow pulled strings, the bouncy bass line, harmonies and drums that all add energy and whimsy, and the perfectly timed, quick double kick drum he adds on the chorus when he says "I'm not not superstitious"- fits perfectly. He reveals a playful side, as he talks about the ennui of the electric guitar over an incredibly catchy riff and cymbal crashes on Blue Son, which is one of the catchiest songs on the album.
As always, his song writing is top shelf and has the strength to stand alone without the help of any unnecessary instruments. Tone Deaf Birds, needs only 2-minutes to draw you in and is nothing more than a simple picked riff and some horns. Tell Me What You Want follows much the same path, relying on pedal steel and keep time drums for support, but for the most part Feuerstack (with the help of Jeremy Gara) accepts the challenge of writing a record full of bigger sounds. In the past, They Won't Believe You might have remained a catchy, but stripped down acoustic guitar number, but the arrangement is beefed up with thumping drums, hand claps, horns and harmonies and the electric solo adds some controlled chaos to the song at just the right time.
While this seems like a huge shift, one that could polarize his devoted fan base, it really isn't. The beautiful duet Salvation Army, a song that adds contrasting female vocals that back Michael as he sings about being left alone after the lies, really help hammer home the message, still shows how easily Michael sets the scene of another emotional train wreck. Born in the City is a lonely affair, he just takes the time to develop the sounds that accompany his words. The battling bursts of electric guitar and orchestral drums can't hide the desolation that surfaces when the drinks are gone and you wake up alone after great night.
No, even with the bold sonic choices he makes, Feuerstack still pens songs that expose emotions that help you get lost in your own thoughts. I've always thought that a great song writer needs to be able to share their most personal experiences, but somehow transfer those precise moments in time to any listener that stumbles upon the song, and Michael's detailed vagueness helps you feel like he's writing for you. Songs like Homesick perfectly portray emotions we've all felt, and even as he sings of singing Dylan songs by the campfire on O My God, you strangely feel like you were there with him.
Lies on the Prize is a record that you can't ignore. It should impress long time Snailhouse fans, but win Michael a slew of new ones in the process and maybe get him some of the attention he deserves. For any of our right coast readers, Snailhouse is sharing the stage with some big hitters, including Sandro Perri and Christine Fellows as part of Sappyfest Sunday afternoon showcase.