The first Dead Feathers album – 2019’s ‘All Is Lost’ – introduced the world to a solid blues rock/heavy psych band. With a sound indebted to the last gasps of the 60s and steeped in a classic riffs, the record’s ten songs explored a darker tone and shared arrangements which sometimes sounded like Jefferson Airplane’s moody cousin (‘At The Edge’), as well as hinting at an admiration for the slow and vaguely psychedelic blues of Savoy Brown (‘Smoking Gun’). It even wheeled out some brilliant fuzzy fare (‘Horse And Sands’) and a heavier riff or two in a nod to the mighty Black Sabbath (‘Cordova’). Although never as lavish sounding as the best Ruby The Hatchet works, it was one of those records that guaranteed enjoyment for fans of the style, wherever they chose to drop the metaphorical needle.
Four years on – and delivered, in some ways, to a far more troubled and cynical world – ‘Full Circle’ offers potential fans more of the same, but is a much stronger record. The production values share a much crisper sound throughout, but without drawing anything away from the warm, analogue sounding hum of previous works, and the playing feels a little tighter throughout. It’s easily recognisable as the same band, of course, since any sonic improvements never create a dramatic shift in intent, and Marissa’s voice retains a huge presence which, in so many ways, is the strongest feature in the Dead Feathers musical canon. About a minute into the title track, and Dead Feathers sound even more enthused than before as they work through a heavy-ish blues rock riff and Marissa evokes the spirits of Grace Slick and Linda Hoyle at the same time, wailing a hazy late 60s melody over a wall of guitars that, in another lifetime, could’ve graced an album by Black Cat Bones or The Spirit of John Morgan. The whole track presents a peak in fuzzy blues rock, but Tony Wold’s huge solo that doesn’t skimp on a wah-wahed sound, in so many ways, presents this number’s greatest moments. If you liked Dead Feathers before, it’ll take all of one listen to this tune before you’re convinced that they’re all the more powerful here.
‘Lightning’ opens in a more sedate way when wah-wahed guitars cry above a fluid bass sound, creating a bluesy take on a psych tone, but it isn’t long before Dead Feathers explode into life. The second half of the intro hints at things to come when the guitars crank the volume, and this immediately signifies something great on the horizon. A track built from light and shade, the verses take on a different late 60s vibe when clean guitars clang against a great rhythm, and Marissa begins to set up a really moody melody via a superb vocal. As before, though, it’s when hitting the chorus that the band truly hit their stride, and again, sounding like a heavier Jefferson Airplane crossed with Affinity, their music really benefits from a heavy, late 60s Cream/Blue Cheer like quality and the melody provides a great showcase for Wold’s tautly applied wah wah and Rob Rodak’s bass, which rises from the wavering psych to add some serious muscle to a classic sounding retro rocker. As you’d expect, Marissa’s vocals take a similar approach to the opening track, but it becomes much clearer here that she has a powerhouse approach to performance, and this slightly heavier take on an old Sweetwater sound really allows her to cut loose.
Reaching inside themselves for something darker still, ‘Daughter’ opens like an old Doors jam shared through an Airplane prism, but as the melody grabs a hold, more of Dead Feathers’ own twists on a desert rock/dark psychedelic sound begin to bleed through the cracks. The way Todd Wold and Tim Snyder weave light guitar lines between a sparse rhythm shows a great musical restraint which adds to the ominous mood, and the spacious melody gives Marissa a vast canvas, across which she shares a devilish wail that’s just perfect. At the point where you think this couldn’t get better, Joel Castanon’s drums stoke up an almost tribal feel – increasing the love for similar Doors sounds – before shifting the tempo to allow for a deep, howling lead guitar solo pulled straight from the Groundhogs school of fiery blues.
Having now more than warmed up, ‘One Year Before The Island’ offers an instrumental interlude where slow drum beats underscore a hazy blanket of sound where a deep psych guitar riff sounds like its about to introduce a Doors-like number, or be the instigator for some really intense and dark poetry, before slipping into the lighter ‘Swell’, where Tony explores a clean guitar sound to create one of the track’s main riffs, delivering more of a 90s inflected dream pop sound. This, too, suits the band’s palate of all things retro, and set against another great vocal, it allows the listener a great insight into how well the Feathers apply a lighter touch. Moving between this lighter sound and instrumental bridges where a more obvious blues influences take centre stage, it’s clear that the band absolutely loves the Affinity debut, and by the time the rhythm subsides to reveal a really quiet interlude, their love of the psychedelic rises very effectively once more. It’s great to hear Rodak’s bass taking more of a dominant role here, and the way he uses it to weave in and out of a noodling bluesy guitar occasionally takes on a Zeppelin-esque flavour which really hits home by the time the expected solo hits, and the band can be heard waist deep in a groove that sounds as if it were inspired by the classic ‘No Quarter’. On an album full of top-notch tunes, it’s hard to pick favourites, but along with the title cut, this is a definite stand-out.
The nine minute epic ‘Robbery’ pulls together all of the band’s best traits so far, and augments the slightly fuzzy sounds with a more urgent riff at the outset, which soundsgreat when used to contrast a huge vocal cry. Using this to power the verse, it becomes clear that the idea of setting a mood in place is more important than the immediacy of a song, but things eventually take a side step into some much noisier, very 90s sounding stoner riffs, pushing forth the angriest elements of Dead Feathers with ease. Using the angrier riffs intermittently between bluesy leads makes the melody sound like it wants to drop into Monster Magnet’s ‘Tractor’ at any given moment, but once you’ve got the measure of that, it gives way for a lead sound lifted straight from the Zeppelin debut, and eventually a slow blues jam where the vocal finds a sorrowful tone. It’s all great, and showcases some spot on musicianship before reverting to the quietly unsettling mood from the beginning of the jam, bringing everything full circle. If you’ve had any liking for Dead Feathers in the past, this will definitely become a favourite track. In closing, ‘Galapogos’ allows the listener time to wind down with a short acoustic workout where a folky influence informs the psych, driven by finger picked melodies and a forlorn vocal. It wouldn’t be a great leap to imagine this being tucked away somewhere on an old Pentangle LP, or finding a place among some of those cult acid folk LPs from Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan. Despite any familiarity, the number impeccably played, and the way Marissa’s low cry is placed against a deep drum sound and 50s guitar tones feels like the perfect way to bow out.
In many ways, ‘Full Circle’ sounds like the kind of record that could have been recorded at many different points in the musical past. There are times when it sounds like buried treasure from a proto-metal band from the late 60s; there are swathes of dark and Doors-y ominousness, massive homages to Affinity, Jefferson Airplane and Blue Cheer, and absolutely no shortage of superb riffs. There are also bits of 90s post-psych and stoner, but whichever the influence, Dead Feathers make the sounds really fly. As they say, if you don’t want something to date, create something that’s already old, and on that score, this album truly excels. ‘Full Circle’ might well sound like a lot of music you’ve always known, but this band recycle a classic psych-blues sound with so much conviction, it’s almost impossible not to love the results. A brilliant long player.