Fetter (n.): 1. a chain or shackle for the feet. 2. something that confines.
Some of my favorite hooks in the world are the kind where you can tell something’s being revealed or turned on its head, but you won’t figure it out without a little research (or an extensive vocabulary). And man, Ian Stahl sure knows how to write one.
The line in question comes at the end of the chorus of “Fetters and Feathers,” the title track of Cilience’s debut EP. Backed by intrinsically satisfying syncopation, frontman Stahl sings, “Waiting for something better/Until fetters are feathers, I’ll sing until I can fly.” It’s the kind of music you’d want to listen to during a sunny drive up the Ventura coast—which, for a song intended to highlight racial inequality, is impressive. Its parent record, Fetters and Feathers, is a conceptually quirky but idiomatically sound ride through a host of styles and existential quandaries that invites listeners to explore as far as they want to go.
The EP begins with the driving, urgent rhythms of “Begin Again,” a song that showcases the band’s ability to effortlessly switch between time signatures and feels. Though the lyrics are engrossing, Stahl’s first lines are ever so slightly wobbly, leaving the listener to wonder if the pitch discrepancies are supposed to be intentionally unsettling or if another take might have produced a more solid vocal line. Indeed, pitch issues pop up in almost every song on Fetters and Feathers, whether it’s the not-quite-perfect unisons in the title track’s verses or a couple notes in “St. Petersburg” that sound a little too high for their vowels. In a live performance, these moments would be here and gone in an instant, forgotten just after they’re perceived by the audience. On a recording, however, they catch the ear with every listen, drawing attention away from the generally stellar instrumentals and worthwhile messages. It’s the biggest drawback of Fetters and something Cilience will have to account for when they return to the studio for their full-length.
“Fetters and Feathers” the song is by far the energetic high point of Fetters and Feathers the record. Inspired by Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the lyrics are intensely visual. They simultaneously plant in the audience a sense of hopeful longing and a desire to move and celebrate life. Cilience also enlists a string section for “Fetters,” which initially sits a little oddly in the mix but ultimately fills out the middle register quite well. While each song on the record stands out in its own way, “Fetters” has by far the most mainstream radio potential.
The third song on the record, “Rain Dance,” is the most technically engaging piece of the album, as Stahl’s vocals (though very clean) take a backseat and bandmates Michael Anetsberger and Eric DeLuca make the most of their chance to shine. Anetsberger’s drumming on this track highlights his attention to detail and ability to move around the kit, and DeLuca’s bass lines add an almost hypnotic feel to the sonic environment. “Rain Dance” best illustrates Cilience’s world music influences—the premise of the song is based in Zuni religious beliefs, and the track’s construction thoughtfully mirrors that decision. It’s a departure from the rest of Fetters the EP, but it’s a delightful listen. Don’t miss this one.
Cilience closes out their debut EP with “St. Petersburg,” inspired by Stahl’s travels through Russia and featuring a poem by Anton Vorobyev recited by the poet himself. The beginning of “St. Petersburg” is reminiscent of 80’s rock and could easily find a home in arenas and stadiums across the country. The playback of Vorobyev’s recitation makes the song’s low point difficult in live performance, and even on the record the instrumentals risk swallowing the end of the poem. That said, it’s a nuanced song and a welcome addition to the collection.
I can’t write hooks as well as Stahl can, but here’s mine: Fetters and Feathers is a solid debut EP from a group who’s already got it together enough to play the Troubadour. Is there room for improvement? Certainly. But while you’re waiting for their full-length to come out, you can listen to Fetters on your favorite streaming platform or hit up their EP release show Saturday night at Molly Malone’s. ♦
DON’T MISS: Rain Dance