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Cynic's New Year
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  • On the fourth Horse Feathers album, ringleader Justin Ringle expands his art-folk vision into something simultaneously ambitious and methodically crafted, creating a kind of chamber Americana sound in the process. Ringle's aesthetic home base is an acoustic-oriented singer/songwriter approach that combines lyrical erudition with organic accompaniment, ? la Iron & Wine or Will Oldham, with his clear, gentle vocals often coming off like a close cousin of Iron & Wine main man Sam Beam. But while the core of the sound on Cynic's New Year is the interaction between Ringle and violinist Nathan Crockett, the singer/songwriter drafted in a wide array of players to contribute to these tracks, ending up with a kind of revolving-door cast of characters that adds up to an 11-strong ensemble. But despite the number of tonal colors employed over the course of the album, things never get out of hand. Whether you want to credit this to producer Skyler Norwood (Talkdemonic, Loch Lomond) or to Ringle's own tight reins on the proceedings, each cut glides gracefully along without getting bogged down in over-production. French horn, banjo, strings -- you name it, it pops up at some point on Cynic's New Year, but an airy acoustic feel is maintained throughout, and the arrangements never impinge on Ringle's relaxed reign. With the low-key, unassuming quality of his vocal delivery, Ringle becomes the calm at the center of an emotional storm that the music obscures but the lyrics ultimately betray. But if even you don't delve deeply enough into these tracks to unearth all the layers of psychological discomfiture lurking beneath the softly inviting surface, there's more than enough to be gained simply by absorbing the artful unfolding of the tunes at face value. ~ J. Allen
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