When it comes to art, it’s harder to be quiet than loud.
No matter what medium you’re working with: it’s harder to write a soft, character-driven scene than a huge action set piece, harder to dance a solo versus dancing with a huge group behind you. It’s especially hard with music: coordinating with a bunch of other musicians might be hard, but tackling everything yourself is even harder.
That’s what makes Feiler so impressive.
Feiler is a one-man project, the brainchild of singer, songwriter and producer Austin Smith. Every note is constructed by him, and you can hear the precision and intention in all his work, but it’s especially present in “Ruse”.
I mean, the song subverts your expectations right from the get-go. It starts with silence, slowly fading just one guitar, where every slide and squeak of the strings is 100% audible. The riff is understated but charming with the slightest touch of melancholy, a melancholy that is stretched out like toffee inch by inch across the whole song.
The first words we hear, sung in glass-fragile vocals only slightly above a whisper, are “pretty girl”. We know what to expect, know the romantic platitudes that are ahead of us, can even picture what the music video would likely look like. And then we hear the rest of the line:
“Pretty girl, draw my blood: it’s so beautiful and shiny in the bathroom.”
The whole song is like that, teetering on a line between twee and sinister so perfect that it’s hard to imagine why it isn’t done more often. As the song progresses, Smith’s vocals get less tentative, building from a rasp into a heart-breakingly earnest croon. At the same time, we get soft drums and clicks that ease us further into the spiral, as well as subtle but shimmering synths that lend everything a dreamlike quality.
It should be romantic and calming, but it isn’t quite.
Instead, the synths stutter in and out, as though we’re falling deeper into a trace or further out of touch with reality. The clicks and beats are seductive, but they’re also strangely echoey, like they’re coming from the other side of a seemingly empty room. This vague foreboding is amplified in the last few moments as the synths fade out, leaving us with only a few sparse and spooky vocal runs and a sound almost like the wind howling.
It’s easy to be loud, and even easier to be bombastic, but Feiler does none of that. He keeps things quiet, forcing us to be hyper-aware of every slight change in tone, forcing us to feel out the moment where the honey turns to poison all by ourselves.
It’s soft, it’s romantic, it’s edgy, it’s nuanced – and it’ll keep you listening until you’ve discovered every last secret it has to offer.
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