Music Review: Wintersleep – Self Titled

Wintersleep Self Titled CoverWintersleep are a band that are not well-known to many American’s, but have quite the following in their home country of Canada.  This is their first disc, which was released as a side project to Kary, a harder progressive rock band with which Wintersleep shared several members of.  The project was formed so that Paul Murphy could explore some of the softer elements that were part of Kary and expand on them as best they could.  It turned out well enough that Kary released one more album and then were retired so that the shared members could focus on Wintersleep alone.

To differentiate between Kary, Wintersleep went full on acoustic for this, their debut album.  The tone of the album actually comes out to be extreme on the melancholy, but it’s dripping with emotion and feeling.  That might sound a little pretentious but Wintersleep has to be heard to understand this element.  Paul’s vocals over the (sometimes) drab music creates this gentle feeling of depression that is hard to avoid.  While “depressing” or “melancholy” are seen as a bad thing in today’s world, listening to music that is depressive somehow takes that feeling away from me.  One thing that I have learned about music is that I’d much rather feel something, rather than nothing.  Wintersleep makes you feel.

The album opens up with Sore.  Light acoustic guitars start off the song for a few seconds before Paul comes in with a gentle tone in his voice.  This song is probably one of the more “cheerful” songs that the group have recorded and it’s probably the closest thing to a love song we will get out of them.  When the chorus kicks in, the vocals are amped and go from gentle to pained.  Not painful in a bad way, but painful in a fashion that gives us the feeling that the vocalist is sharing while singing the lyrics.

I know that I am going on an on about the “feeling” or the “emotion” that comes across, but that is this albums strongest asset.  We are able to connect to this album because we can understand the emotion behind it and the lyrics are also made up of realities that we face every day.  Assembly Lines is a song that everyone can understand.  The verses talk about things like “The Wife, The kids are starting to get in the way of the important thins/Like cars, like ours, like customers just keep smiling” which leads right into the chorus of “I’ll try harder”.  This is a song that can easily have a connection with just about everyone on earth who feels the need to try harder to be what other people expect them to be.  The music backing the song is a repetitive acoustic guitar riff and layered backing vocals of “oh’s” and “ah’s”  which give the song depth it might not have other wise.

Those are the touches that Wintersleep add to make what could potentially be very boring into something special.  They are the masters of droning on with what sometimes feels repetitive, but if you really listen subtle things get added on during the course of a song that end up in many layers by the end.  Maybe the guitar riff is the same for the whole song, but there might be a time shift in the background or some layered vocals.  The layered vocals are something that is seen on a lot of tracks.  Ambulance, a track about someone having a deadly medical issue in front of you.  The chorus constantly asks “If this is a joke/Please tell me so/So I’ll know”.  The verses have a layered vocals with a female singer in the background.  While the song does follow the verse, chorus verse formula,  the song ends with Paul going into a series of vocal riffs that give the feeling of someone who has been hurt.  Looking at another track, like Wind, we once agin see the repetitive nature of the band.  The same guitar line over and over again, but there is a subtle keyboard note in the background.  A female vocalist comes in and out of the song with Paul’s vocals building and building up to the end of the track.

This isn’t Wintersleep at their finest, but it’s still very good.  This album was a great start for the group and when listening to this now it’s easy to understand how they have grown since this has been release.  Their 2 LP’s after this one brought in electronic guitar, which brought back some of what people were missing with Kary being put on indefinite hold.  If you don’t mind music being a little on the depressing side and you like acoustic rock, this is something that needs to be heard.  For Winterlseep this release marks the start of something sadly beautiful, maybe you will find the same value in it as well.

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