Wintersleep’s last record, Welcome to the Nightsky has been one of my most-played albums, if not Thee Most Played Album of straight-up indie-rock from a new band in the last few years. There, they seemed to be going for the double whammy of maximum sonic AND maximum emotional impact, with crescendos worthy of Explosions in the Sky, and a tragic posturing (not quite goth) reminiscent of Interpol, Editors, The National, in its high drama and literary references. At Wintersleep’s worst, they sounded like Coldplay… at Coldplay's maudlin best.
Granted, Wintersleep hadn’t come from nowhere: Paul Murphy and co had released material under other names, back in Canada, and they also had Peter Katis producing… who, with the release of The National’s Latest-Instant-Classic seems to have become the go to guy for massive-sounding but dignified man-rock; nothing garagey, punk, or leather-trousered about their sound: its phallic thrust points towards becoming immortals; enduring, and being eulogized in the monthly magazines, rather than just pushing our buttons with this minute’s sound. Unsurprisingly, then, the album’s first song choruses:
It’s bigger than you-ooh
(what would you do?)
If you ever made it through…
With Tony Doogan producing, Wintersleep have added strings and brass, and for tension-building effect, gone back to the scratchiest riffs to start songs rather than diving straight in, as before. It makes for a promising departure from the last record, although by the second track, Murphy’s already dropped yet another reference to Biggest-and-Best-Novel-of-the-Century, Infinite Jest (okay, he might be aiming for something else, but he certainly name-dropped on the last record, and the lyric, “Encyclopaedia of Hurts”, sounds like a plausible tagline for the aforementioned novel).
Breaking the run of anthemic songs, the album’s actual first single, ‘New Inheritors’ is a weird reminder that Doogan started out producing Belle & Sebastian, with its buoyant trumpet part, cheap-keyboard, and acoustic strum. As you might remember, Wintersleep got plenty of radio-play for their odd-one-out track, ‘Weighty Ghost’, last year (acoustic guitars, accordions, and a big sing-along), which sat on its parent-record like one of those incongruous singles James or The Cure would put out in the Nineties, to lure you into their sprawling misery epics. In Wintersleep's case, this just doesn't work. Thankfully, ‘Black Camera’ picks up the pace again, coming close to Wintersleep’s previous best shout-along moment, ‘Oblivion’ (note, 'close', because “black cam-er-a! / black cam-er-a!” is considerably less satisfying to shout along to than “ob-liv-i-on / ob-liv-i-on!”, right?).
Overall, it’s a fair follow-up. By lightening the mood, Wintersleep sometimes seems to have moved a little closer to anonymity, and they haven’t quite figured out what they do with strings, brass, and keyboards that’s truly distinctive, other than bulking out the sound (see the last two National records for the transition from a detailed sound to a truly distinctive one). A few of the songs’ disjointed sections lead you with the impression that – like Interpol – they lack confidence in the power of a simple riff. Still, it’s only a matter of time before they live up to that title.
7Alexander Tudor's Score