“If you’re happy and you know it / turn the volume up and blow it out” sings Matt Pelham of The Features in “Blow It Out,” and my attention was deservingly grabbed. Up until this fourth track, Exhibit A seems an attack of XTC-style nervous energy. Pelham’s mannered vocals and tight song arrangements are reminiscent of Partridge and Co., but with added edge. Pelham is an expert tunesmith, displaying a mastery of the two-and-a-half minute tune on his band’s debut album. As with many songs on this album, you often are waiting and wanting for more.
With names like Parrish Yaw and Rollum Haas, you can’t help but wonder where these guys are from. Tennessee wouldn’t be the first place that comes to mind, but Murfreesboro (by way of Sparta) is where this group honed its skills. But there is nothing “Tennessee” about their sound. While the immediate comparison would be XTC, you can hear traces of The Jam and some of the upbeat sounds of The Cure (they do exist) in Exhibit A‘s arrangements.
“Leave It All Behind” expertly uses the soft/loud dynamic to reel the listener back into its catchy chorus. “The Idea of Growing Old” brings the band back down to Earth with a McCartney-esque melody. This lone, down-tempo song, if it can be called that, deserves special attention. Parrish Yaw’s keyboards add tasteful, colorful complements to what could have otherwise been a guitar/bass/drum pop tune.
While many of the tracks sound as if Pelham is the ringleader of an out-of-control circus (not unlike Tod A. and his Firewater freakshow), the big top is never blown. This can be attributed to the swirling of Yaw’s organ sounds combined with the always frenetic drumming of Rollum Haas, who drops out at the perfect dynamic times to add that extra punch.
The Features offer a new twist to mod-inflected, psychedelic pop-rock (how’s that for a genre?) and Exhibit A is a full-length worth investigating.