For a band striving for success, a bit of inconsistency can kill a career. For Nashville rockers The Features, that characteristic has sort of been the band's calling card.
"I feel like for the most part, we're very consistent at being inconsistent," says vocalist/guitarist Matt Pelham. "I think that's come from maybe us getting a bit bored from time to time with standard structures, and I think we're getting even more like that every time we write a song."
The Features, who play Cosmic Charlie's on Friday, has built a career out of this approach. The group has gained near universal critical appreciation and a loyal following during the past decade coloring and deconstructing pop while mixing in its adoration for '60s psychedelia, raw garage rock and danceable, synth-heavy '80s New Wave.
This sound got The Features its first taste of mainstream exposure when it released its major-label debut, Exhibit A, on Universal in 2004. It was near the peak of the garage rock revival of the early 2000s, but while other bands went on with continued major-label support, The Features were dropped from Universal due to creative differences.
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That kind of gut punch can take a lot out of a band. But The Features persevered, headlining club dates, self-releasing the EP Contrast in 2006 and opening for acts like Manchester Orchestra and fellow Tennesseans Kings of Leon. In fact, it was Kings of Leon who gave The Features an added boost by releasing the band's second full-length album, Some Kind of Salvation, in 2009.
It would appear the band is riding a bit of momentum with its latest release, Wilderness. Pelham said he and his bandmates — Mark Bond, keyboards; Roger Dabbs, bass; and Rollum Haas, drums — think this album splits the difference between the aggressiveness of Exhibit A and the tuneful maturity of Some Kind of Salvation while capturing an element that hasn't been showcased.
"It's the first time that I thought we came out of the studio and the record sounds a lot like we sound live, ... pretty close to us being in a living room playing together," Pelham said.
The band once again shows it gets off on dabbling with the typical pop formula. Breezy synth-pop skates steadily on the fluctuating rhythmic shifts and occasional guitar grit on Offer Up. How It Starts has the infectious beat and feel of late-era Modest Mouse. Other tracks show it's affection of '60s psychedelics, whether it's album-opener Content, with its woozy shuffle and especially trippy organ, or the guttural drive of the Deep Purple-indebted Kids. Pelham again displays a lyrical sharpness to match his edge-teetering vocals, whether it's the environmental slant of the bluesy romp Big Momma Gonna Whip Us Good or the split of possessions after a broken relationship through the Zombie-fied lament Fats Domino.
Whether The Features gains ground with its new album, the band will have a steady fan base in the Southeast. Pelham said the band continues to stay energized touring and putting its twist on pop and rock, and it tries to keep the ups and downs of the music business at arms length.
"It feels like sometimes we're gaining some momentum and other times, it feels like we're no farther than we were five years ago," Pelham said. "You can't really count on anything, so we should just play music. That's really what it comes down to."