Audio Mixer: Mark Nevers.
Recording information: Beech House Recording, Nashville, TN (04/14/2014-04/25/2014).
Though this is A Grave with No Name's fourth full-length overall, it's only Alex Shields' second album recorded in a proper studio. His first, 2013's Whirlpool, stripped away much of the static and distortion that engulfed his earlier work; Feathers Wet, Under the Moon does away with any lingering lo-fi trappings while adding a surprising, and welcome, twang thanks to a collaboration with Lambchop's Mark Nevers and a cast of Nashville players (as well as Shields' best friend, Hebronix's Daniel Blumberg). Nevers' glistening production lays Shields' songs bare but also brings them closer, and the difference between this album and AGWNN's previous music is like a lucid dream and a foggy memory. Shields used to use heroic doses of echo, distortion, and reverb as hauntingly as the Microphones; the only nod to his shoegazing roots pops up on the feedback-laden standout "Candle," which is the closest he's ever come to writing an anthem. Much more often, Feathers Wet, Under the Moon's bittersweet confessions call to mind It's a Wonderful Life-era Sparklehorse. Shields' tremulous tenor sounds uncannily like Mark Linkous' on fragile ballads like "Your Ghost, by the Lake" and "I Will Ride a Horse" as well as the heat-shimmer psych-pop of "Orion," where lyrics like "It's too late to trade this kingdom for a cup full of blood" evoke Linkous' knack for mixing sweet melodies and disturbing imagery. The preponderance of ghost and horse motifs borders on borrowing too faithfully from the Sparklehorse songbook, but more importantly, Shields taps into the exquisite way Linkous could find the comfort in being sad. Several of the album's most striking songs use a handful of words to anchor beautifully melancholic music: the bookends "Nursing Home" and "Natural Light" set the album's gentle but dark mood perfectly, while the prickly acoustic arpeggios on "Under the Ice" and swelling strings on "Before the Morning Comes" lend an eeriness that lives up to the band's name (whether it began as a joke or not). Fragile and confessional, Feathers Wet, Under the Moon's big changes sound completely natural, resulting in an album that rivals some of Mercury Rev, Lambchop, and Sparklehorse's finest work. ~ Heather Phares