The Features, Exhibit A (Universal/Motown)

features-exhibit-aThe world is about to discover what we in middle Tennessee have known for years — The Features are an amazing band. Yet Exhibit A may introduce even loyal fans to a new Features — louder, messier, faster, more reliant on overdriven guitar. For that’s the impression from the opening strums of “Exhibit A.”

Though they’ve sacrificed much of their quirky, “new-wave” bounce by turning up the guitars so much, the grit suits them. The louder, high energy sound draws marvelous vocal performances from Matt Pelham. Passionate and wild, they’re the stuff the Features have never gotten on tape before. It’s as if the pent-up frustration of not releasing any of their previous attempts at a full-length has just burst out of their amps.

The energy and pace of the songs are something else the Features have never translated to recording. The first three songs fly past so quickly, they feel like three movements of one song. It’s the fourth track that gives us our first barely moderate tempo — and even then, “Blow It Out” is mostly a tribute to the punch of the rest of the album.

Perhaps predictably, it’s on the old standard “Exorcising Demons” where the album loses a little of its bite. Though there’s no denying the gusto of the performance, the song’s up-and-down carnival sound is a bit at odds with the rest of the record’s straight-ahead “blow it out” formula. The song that follows, “The Idea of Growing Old,” is a sweet ode to family life and sets the Features back on course while showing off their pop hooks and allowing Parrish Yaw a little more room for his keyboards.

Like most rock albums with more than 10 tracks, the Features hyper playing begins to exhaust the listener after 25 minutes or so. Having so many great songs early in the record — “Exhibit A,” “That’s the Way It’s Meant to Be,” “Me and the Skirts,” “Leave It All Behind” — also drains a bit of the energy out of the end. One’s tempted to keep repeating the first six tracks.

But, really, complaining about too much of a good thing is ridiculous. After too many years without a proper album, The Features deliver Exhibit A sure to satisfy devoted fans and win over droves more.

[Review for NashvilleZine.]