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Homey Intimacy, Soaked in Strings

Horse Feathers' music recalls the rustic delicacy of Iron and Wine.
Horse Feathers' music recalls the rustic delicacy of Iron and Wine.

A virtually unknown duo from Portland, Oregon, Horse Feathers' Justin Ringle and Peter Broderick have crafted one of the year's most accomplished and stirring debuts in Words Are Dead. Often recalling the rustic delicacy of Iron and Wine — if it were soaked in strings and robbed of some of its stark clarity — Horse Feathers' music radiates homey intimacy, as Broderick fleshes out Ringle's voice and guitar with all manner of warmly unamplified instrumentation.

Though the album functions most effectively as a lovely 35-minute whole, Words Are Dead opens in particularly winsome and affecting fashion, with "Hardwood Pews" matching subtly infectious melodies with Ringle's hauntingly obtuse lines about beauty and disappointment. It's unclear what he's singing about much of the time: Lines like "She's tricked, she was trapped / her body was lacking / white and red / those hues lost in bed" aren't always easy to parse. But when he closes with a chilling instruction — "Take your beauty to your grave" — the effect, when measured along with the surrounding sweet sounds, is oddly calming.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)