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Regional indie faves to perform

Fri., April 16, 2010

Minus the Bear, Horse Feathers play separate shows

A couple of regional indie favorites are coming through town in the next week with lots of similarities, though they sound nothing alike.

Both are fresh off the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, both have new albums on the way, and both have animal references in their band names.

While Horse Feathers’ melancholy Americana is going through a rebirth, prog-pop rockers Minus the Bear are toying with new sounds.

On the first listen to the opening track of Minus the Bear’s new album, there is something noticeably missing – or, rather, added. Davie Knudsen’s signature effects-heavy, two-hand guitar tapping has been swapped out for some serious synth action.

Don’t worry, Knudsen is still in the band, but he’s got a new toy: a Japanese Omnichord, a sort of electronic autoharp.

The sound is prominent on a handful of songs on the new album, “Omni,” enough so that it’s loosely named after the kidney-shaped synthesizer.

“Omni” is more prog than pop compared to its predecessor, 2007’s “Planet of Ice,” said bassist Cory Murchy.

“I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing, but when we come together to write songs the groove is important to us,” Murchy said during a telephone interview. “We’re all lovers of dance music and lovers of bad pop, but who’s to say it’s bad pop if it gets you moving.

“Before it was like, ‘Let’s have a million parts in one song …’ and that was a lot of fun and exactly what we needed at the time. This time we went in looking to tighten things up.”

Scheduled for release May 4 on Dangerbird Records, “Omni” is the fourth full-length for the Seattle quintet, which comes to the Knitting Factory on Monday, and its first album since splitting with Suicide Squeeze Records.

On its new album, Horse Feathers – which plays Saturday at the Empyrean – delivers more of the familiar indie-folk-country that won critical praise on the Portland band’s last outing, last year’s wintery “House With No Home.”

However, “Thistled Spring,” which will be released Tuesday on the indie giant Kill Rock Stars label, is an album of renewal, with a warmer tone and brighter spots throughout.

Once a duo, a now a quartet, the band has beefed up its instrumentation with strings and piano, in addition to accordion, guitar and banjo.

Bandleader Justin Ringle continues to rely on sparse arrangements, but with more colors at his disposal. He takes advantage of the opportunity to fill the space with orchestral swells, then strips it down to bare essentials at choice moments.

Ringle sings his weighty lyrics starkly and mournfully, but the mood is slightly lightened by vocal harmonies that sometimes soar, and other times simply float.

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