Mad Feather Group is a band that’s been around the national block. Originally from the Jackson and Toms River areas of New Jersey, the group wandered to Boston, Massachusetts, and Asheville, North Carolina, before coming back to the home state that started it all. Forming sometime around 2009, the group’s core remains virtually unchanged right up until now.
When you first listen to what is written about the group or read some of their self-deprecating anecdotes, you can understand how Mad Feather Group might come to view themselves as a simple bunch of pals making music on a Saturday night. However, their sound is immense, and their skill of composition is frightfully massive. But that grounded mindset in which they view themselves as a little neighborhood band of brothers is a rare and integral vibration that comes through on their latest CD, King Like-Ness.
King Like-Ness may be short on typical song numbers content, but what it lacks in generic expectations is more than made up by the group’s unfathomable juxtaposition of musical style and lyrical communication. Spacious and exploratory in a soulful jazz rock sector, Mad Feather Group mixes both original texture and listenable, alternative beauty with effortless grace.
The disc begins with the complex proficiency of “Art Collector.” Blending lush banks of echoed guitars with submerged bass and percussive drums, electric hand claps and synthesized electronic flourishes, MFG launch their sensuous sound with mosaic flair. Vocalist David Colon is both toned and textured, building melodic shifts as he makes his way through verse, bridge and chorus. Hypnotic and arabesque, “Art Collector” draws you deep into its hidden chamber of valuables. Background vocals are both ethereal and soulful, reminding me of the great 1970s group The 5th Dimension and their unique wall of sound. I’m a big fan of song construction here as well. Nothing plods as members drop timed compositional additions into the main body of the framework at concisely the right times. The middle-eight is a psychedelic groove in the vein of Portishead or Morcheeba, and it’s an impassioned journey from beginning to end. “Art Collector” offers mainstream potential while retaining true and honest influential credibility, and is by far my favorite piece on this wall of musical paintings.
The disc moniker “King Like-Ness” pumps out of the speakers with an immediately addictive combination of The Brothers Johnson and old Coldplay. The choruses are a tumbling wonderland of opulent, jazz-tinged brilliance coated with Steely Dan guitar icing. The Steely Dan reference is dead on. While there isn’t any exact style copying, you can tell the connection is heavy. Electric piano and guitar phrasing race along those lines with an impeccable amount of influential Steely mojo. Colon’s elevating vocal positioning would make Donald Fagan shake his head in wonderment and possible jealousy. The middle section is a diverse breakdown of thoughtful staccato rhythms that ping the outer limits of structure and wide-open electronics, Rhoades piano and fat horn arrangements. Funky, complex and way outside the lines of anything as simple as mere rock, “King Like-Ness” is a ruler of melodic odyssey, and another one of my favorites on the disc.
“Lightening Paper” confirms the positioning of this diversified disc. Orbital guitars shuttle across the stratospheric Mixolydian range of this song, displaying a keen and progressive skill while riding the dissonantly beautiful background vocal work of this unpredictable group. It’s interesting that their bio describes them as a close-knit family business as they blend as one monolithic monster of talent, blowing out multi-stacked choruses like no one else around. The cicada-like synth work buzzes in the verse as guitars shimmer and ripple across the soundscape of their musical infinity. Rhythms bounce and pop under fluid bass work, making this song move like a rattler on dessert sands. Horn work is true blue and forlorn, beautiful to the ear and pulling at the imagination. I love the outro guitar lead, which builds poignantly, searing into the mind before breaking up into fuzz-faced disintegrations like some demented Robin Trower.
“Spittaking (In A Day)” zones in from Venus before Colon grabs the reins and focuses you on his agreeably mezzo-capable voice. Pianos twinkle and sparkle with the 1970s brilliance of Jefferson Starship (Miracles) as bass and drums pump this down the road to everything Daniele Luppi. The most interesting thing about this band is their ability to create large but separated sounds. With a maelstrom of instrumentation and vocals happening, clarity still reigns supreme. They submerse themselves in true adventure for their cumulative writing goal and it’s a joyous sound to behold. I’ve heard MFG described by others as “Adult Contemporary” and I have to disagree. “Spittaking,” like the rest of this CD, is more akin to bluesy jazz-inflected soul sound wrapped in ultra-modern attitude than it is to that lazy moniker.
“Settlement” shuffles in on robotic rhythms, warbling electronic pads and growling bass before guitars chip in with Steve Cropper/Nile Rodgers moxie. I love the surges used in the bridges. Expansive and lush, great waves of synth work set the signature of this song in the most memorable of ways. Guitars step through looking glass arpeggios before delay squelching roars of chartered chaos pulls you back into the main focus of the next piece.
“She Mouths The Psalm” is probably their most recognizable song on King Like-Ness. Laid back and covered in the whirling magic of B3 organs, the band stumbles into pseudo-country before bouncing back into their pocket-tight shuffle. The verses shift into decadent chord directives, creating an otherworldly illusion of beauty before bouncing back to the honky tonk cadence. The bridge to the middle-eight is intelligent as well, rolling out extremely chilled Beatles melodies as if it’s all in a day’s work. If there’s one song on the disc that relates to the current crop of musical impresarios and their bearded brethren, this is the one.
“Wedding/Shedding Day” throws out sheets of quivering organ as Colon laments the destiny of the masses. Upstroked guitars lend sharp contrast to bouncing rhythm work and uptown horns before the composition swirls into the odyssey bridge. The group blends multi-dimensional keyboard work with powerhouse horn arrangements, analog warm pianos, guitars and more without anything turning to mush. As the band builds, they thrash their way to the surface, arcing out and into the next liquid pool of calm, luxuriant verse.
The disc ends with the celebratory sounds of “Dead.” Utilizing a bizarre calliope of rhythm, the tune reminds me of early Supertramp. The band slowly builds and revolves, unleashing a heralded chorus before spinning into a majestic bridge of synthesized grandeur. Once again, this talented group blends miraculous vocals, shooting out round robins of call and response before coming back to assemble the mother ship as one.
King Like-Ness is an amazing disc from a band that should have been signed by now. If you love the influential whispers of Morcheeba, Steely Dan, Daniele Luppi and other compositional jazz/rock/pop experimentalists, you’re going to go absolutely insane for Mad Feather Group and King Like-Ness.
Kudos goes out to engineering kingpin Tim Pannella, who put his soul into this production, as well as a whole plethora of support folks at Lakehouse Studios in Asbury Park, NJ.
I also wanted to mention Mad Feather Group’s recording guests Jaime Coppa, Brian Herring, Zack Loria and Anthony Vebra, whose innumerable artistic contributions lend vital credibility to this outstanding record.
For more information on the wildly impressive King Like-Ness, head over to madfeathergroup.com.