The Tennessee teenagers in The Features drew national interest with a 1997 debut EP that riffed on new wave five years before it became fashionable again. The band essentially broke up and re-formed as an Elephant 6-style collective at the start of the new millennium, self-releasing the EP The Beginning, a sweet song-cycle about the newborn twin sons of bandleader Matt Pelham. Last year, the EP and a couple of new singles were picked up by the U.K.'s Fierce Panda label and became a sensation overseas, prompting Universal to sign The Features and release its debut album, Exhibit A, nearly eight years after the group formed.
Over that time, The Features' members have evolved again, this time into rowdy, art-damaged hard rockers. Pelham shrieks and trills like a marginally cleaned-up version of Arthur Brown or Captain Beefheart, while the rest of the band lays down muscular, hooky backup on "Blow It Out" (aided by circus organ, thick power chords, and a cooing bridge), the upwardly marching "Leave It All Behind" (with its snaky keyboard-guitar backdrop), and the sweetly ferocious "Someway, Somehow" (which could almost be a power ballad if it didn't barrel away at 100 miles per hour).
On paper, The Features seems like another riff-happy buzz band, in line with Jet or Phantom Planet. But Exhibit A has a rougher edge: It's louder and less controlled than it has to be. The group's frenzy is typified by "The Way It's Meant To Be," which starts off with a burst of feedback and a dirty, handclap-punctuated groove, sounding like Led Zeppelin covering Tommy James & The Shondells. Then a squiggly organ kicks in and Pelham's obsessed lyrics begin to edge the song deep into disquiet. By the time the first chorus finishes, the band's performance has collapsed into exultant, pulse-pounding noise. When "The Way It's Meant To Be" ends after two riotous minutes, its title lingers as an affirmation.