This spring, Spin magazine laid out a section about the throng of young-ish musicians who've brought back Americana sounds to the forefront of indie rock. Mumford and Sons were on the cover. The Low Anthem and the Head and the Heart were also prominently featured alongside a write up about The Felice Brothers. As much as that last band enjoyed the publicity, the placement of that article was a bit odd.
While The Felice Brothers had created a few records over its five-year existence that echo the rootsy influences of its upstate New York origins, The Felice Brothers had just recently released an album, Celebration, Florida, that is decidedly not Americana music. You can hear that foot-stomping goodness that harkens to the band's acoustic beginnings, but this latest offering dances right on the edge of the threshold of electronic dance music. And it's excellent.
With the album, The Felice Brothers - named after co-front men Ian and James Felice - have offered one of the most creative releases of the year and one that captures the frenetic energy fans have long seen in the quintet's live shows. Multi-instrumentalist Greg Farley (he was once dubbed a "fiddler" before his additional responsibilities with electronic gadgets rendered that designation obsolete) and the rest of the band got a kick out of Spin's inclusion in this Americana section, but they're still a bit perplexed about the mainstream's sudden and intense infatuation with this "genre."
"It was funny to us because we were thinking, 'What is Americana?' We've never really understood that. It makes us think of an antique store for rich people where you could buy a ship in a bottle or whatever. I guess that's Americana," says Farley, calling in from rural Virginia where the band was making a pit stop en route to the next club on a massive cross-country tour to support the album.
According to Farley, Celebration, Florida was the product of a winter recording session that saw the band expanding their listening choices, while also continuing to amass the electronics that would eventually be heard on the album. It also helped that when they went into the studio, they hadn't completed writing many of the songs, allowing them to experiment with the unfinished tracks.
"Everything was like a sculpture," says Farley. "It was definitely these new tools and skills we had and we wanted to explore those as much as we could."
The result was an album that still features the deft musicianship we heard on 2009's Yonder is The Clock (and fear not, longtime fans, the accordion is still very much in the mix), but with far more experimentation. The album's opener, "Fire at the Pageant" is a haunting track complete with booming snare chops and a chorus that seems built for a massive singalong. But other songs, like "Ponzi," are downright dance numbers. It doesn't seem like a band like The Felice Brothers should be able to stretch their sound this far, but in doing so, they stretch the limits of how far a band can stretch its sound. Also, the lyrics on this record don't rotate around the working-in-the-fields-and-riding-trains sort of ethos some of those other young Americana acts seem overly obsessed with.
"I don't get why that genre is so nostalgia driven," says Farley. "We love American storytellers like Poe and Twain and all that is in our songs. We have respect for our roots, but there are things that you could apply to our lives now. Ian has always done that."
The Felice Brothers were hardly drained of creativity after Celebration, Florida. Rather, they set up shop in an old chicken coop near their homes to record one track a week - which were then released for free on the band's site - for a collection that would become known as the Poughkeepsie Princess EP. The project was derailed briefly when one of this summer's horrendous Northeast storms destroyed the coop.
The storm, however, didn't destroy the don't-give-a-damn-what-you-want-to-call-us-as-long-as-you-can-get-down-to-our-sound ethos on which The Felice Brothers have thrived.
The Felice Brothers, Gil Landry (of Old Crow Medicine Show)
9pm Monday, October 24. Silver Moon Brewing Co., 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $15. 21 and up.