The Felice Brothers
61 Wythe Avenue
New York, NY 11249
The Felice Brothers
“Many of the songs on the new album are motivated by a shift from private to public concerns,” says songwriter Ian Felice. “It isn’t hard to find worthwhile things to write about these days, there are a lot of storms blooming on the horizon and a lot of chaos that permeates our lives. The hard part is finding simple and direct ways to address them.”
Undress follows the band’s 2016 album Life In The Dark, and finds the group in a very different place three years later. Between personnel changes, families growing and the political landscape, the result is a tighter, more-paired down release. “Every song is a story,” said James Felice. “On this album everything was a bit more thoughtful, including the arrangements, the sonic quality and the harmonies.”
Ian and James Felice grew up in the Hudson valley of upstate NY. Self taught musicians, inspired as much by Hart Crane and Whitman as by Guthrie and Chuck Berry, they began in 2006 by playing subway platforms and sidewalks in NYC and have gone on to release nine albums of original songs and to tour extensively throughout the world. Following the release of Life in the Dark, The Felice Brothers served as the backing band for Conor Oberst’s 2017 release Salutations and the subsequent tour.
If gravity is strong enough, at the end of time our universe will collapse, pulling all of existence back down to infinitesimal size, like before the Big Bang. But if expansion outpaces gravity, eventually the universe will be cold and empty—all light, heat, and connection will be gone. That possibility is called The Big Freeze.
Recorded in her childhood home during the dead of winter, The Big Freeze represents a pivotal step for New York songwriter Laura Stevenson. Despite her pedigree in the punk and indie rock scenes, and the occasional inclusion of a backing band (like on the sprightly, C86-inspired pop track “Dermatillomania”), for the first time on record Stevenson’s voice and guitar are in clear and highlighted focus. It is a natural aesthetic choice for the musician, who has often toured as a solo act and who pulls influence from the great American songbook, and a choice that plays to the core strength and organic beauty of her writing. And though it is easily the darkest and most emotionally-devastating album of Stevenson’s career, it is also without a doubt her most powerful.
Stevenson builds on her own private worlds with choruses of multi-tracked voices, swarms of cellos, French horns and violins; orchestration that blooms and swells throughout each intimate performance. Exploring thematic ideas of distance and misconnection; worlds pulling apart, aching loneliness, and attempts to drive out hibernating dormant demons.
In the opening track Stevenson’s voice insists the listener “lay back with arms out, all-in, unfeeling,” to allow themselves to sink into a flood of instrumental sound that thrums between dissonance and resolution. From waves crashing in an abandoned waterpark on the haunting “Value Inn”, to the last leaves trembling before winter sets in on “Rattle At Will”, a creeping sense of isolation and anxious beauty surrounds every song. And yet there is also warmth, and hope. The album’s third track “Living Room, NY” tells of an intercontinental love and longing which seems to have the strength to thrive despite even the most trying and impossible of circumstances. Across ten tracks, the listener will travel through the cold night, following after a small but powerful flame burning from the other side.
Stevenson is a songwriter whose strengths have gone unsung for far too long, but The Big Freeze is likely to change that. At times you will be reminded of classic American songwriters from both the mainstream and the fringe, whether it’s Jason Molina, Judee Sill, Harry Nilsson or Dolly Parton. But always you will be reminded of the power of the human voice (and a single guitar) to invoke the universe. Or in this case, it’s end.