A successful career in the music business is like hitting a shot from half-court: It's pretty amazing when somebody does it, and luck plays a big part.
The Features have already watched a couple shots rattle around and out, but the Tennessee indie-pop rockers are still in the game. And as they ready their fourth album for release, they've definitely got fans cheering them on.
"It does feel like we have a little bit of momentum, and I think that's one of the most exciting things about the record we just finished," says singer/guitarist Matt Pelham. "It's the first time we have everything sort of lined up, where we have distribution for the next record, we're ready to tour behind it, and it's actually coming out at a point where we have some momentum and just a couple years in between it and the last record."
The band's most recent album, Wilderness, came out in July of 2011 and helped regain the traction the Features had lost when Universal dropped them after their full-length debut, 2004's Exhibit A. An EP followed, but it took four years for the band to release another full album, Some Kind of Salvation, which came across as inward and bitter compared to Wilderness' more carpe diem attitude.
"It was not a happy time for the band," recalls Pelham. "It was pretty rough."
So rough, in fact, that Pelham and bassist Roger Dabbs, who'd been playing together since middle school, didn't know if the Features would survive. When they'd signed to a major, it had seemed like dream fulfillment. But by the time they'd begun recording their second album, it had become a nightmare.
"We demoed maybe 50 or 60 songs to get approval to go in and record," says Pelham, who recalls hearing multiple "We don't hear a single" responses from their label.
After the band finally got the go-ahead to begin recording, Pelham says Universal demanded they switch gears and instead work on a cover of "All You Need Is Love" for a Chase credit card commercial. "We were two weeks out from [recording the album] and the A&R person called to say we were doing this Beatles cover. It wasn't even 'Would you be interested in doing this Beatles cover?' It was, 'You guys are going to do this Beatles cover, otherwise you're not going to be on Universal.'"
Sensing that maybe Universal wasn't that into them, the Features cut the cord and began picking up the pieces. Wilderness is a return to form, with Pelham's mannered croon recalling Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen, whose band has a similarly theatrical garage-psych sophistication.
So while tracks like "Kids" rumble forward like rockers, they're tempered by '60s garage-soul organ with Pelham's vamped shouts giving them a loose-hipped party swing.
Keyboards swell, saunter and sway, offering a soft surface to balance sometimes slashing post-punk guitars. The arrangements are inventive and spirited but remarkably concise, with nearly all songs clocking in at under three and a half minutes.
So now, the group is finally making up for lost time.
"I feel like we should be on our sixth record right now and we're sort of playing catch-up," Pelham says. "We haven't had any of the ducks in a row up until this point, but this time around everything should be firing on all cylinders."