Review: Wintersleep – The Great Detachment

Artist: Wintersleep
Album: The Great Detachment
Label: Dine Alone Records
Genre: Alternative Rock
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Letter Grade: A-

By: Evan AuCoin

Wintersleep are one of those bands I have always been aware of but never really dug into. I always liked what I heard, but I never sought them out much beyond a few songs. In this sense I went into this one a little blind, I had never listened to a Wintersleep record the full way through so I had no real preconceived notions or expectations.

I have to say The Great Detachment was an absolute treat to listen to, the band are truly adept at blending together traditional rock fare—bass, drums, guitar, vocals—with more modern synth and electronic elements. I am not normally a fan of synth and electronic music, but Wintersleep have found what may be a perfect balance between what’s old and what’s new on this record.

The opening track,“Amerika,” grabs you right away. The drums hit and they hit hard. It draws you in; this tune has some serious guts. When we get to the chorus, the choir like backing vocals create an effect that’s equal parts ethereal and anthemic that’s sure to keep you singing along.

Moving into the track, “Santa Fe,” we stay in a similar sonic territory with the driving guitars, but we have an added colour in the effects on singer Paul Murphy’s vocals during the verses. I am not usually a fan of vocal modulation but, my own hang ups aside, it really helps to create an interesting contrast between the effects laden verse and cleaner chorus vocals.

By the third track, “Lifting Cure,” it feels like you have the album figured out, driving alt-rock with touches of synth, then track four, “More Than,” starts and any notion of that melts away. This one starts with an ominous darker synth tone before kicking into more upbeat instrumentation.

The shift in tone continues on the starker, “Shadowless.” This is a beautifully crafted song with superb sonic architecture. The blend between synth and acoustic with the clean and powerful vocals is fantastic. We also see the vocal layering/effects of the albums previous offering gives way to clean and honest vocals delivering some heavy lyrics.

This whole album plays a lot on the contrasts between light and dark, modern and more traditional and it really works. The use of foot stomps and handclaps—a recent trend in popular music—to underpin the crunchy guitars and thick bass tone in, “Metropolis,” and the use of random electronic noises in an otherwise straightforward pop tune in, “Spirit,” are great examples of this.

The band is also super tight, and this is evident in a lot of the arrangements on this album. The interaction between drums and bass on, “Freak Out,” really highlights this point and helps to drive the song. It is always great to hear a drummer that interacts and reacts to what the other instruments are doing, rather than just holding down the beat. This album is a great example of that.

“Love Lies,” throws us for another curve with an almost EDM like intro that evolves into a wonderful give and take between the electronics and the instruments. “Territory,” offers up some fantastic lyrics, specifically “You’re not supposed to be the territory of an anyone,” a heavy lyric contrasted by the upbeat nature of the arrangement.

The albums closer, “Who Are You,” is a total curveball, in the best way. Bands often take risks like this and they do not pan out, but this one works. “Who Are You,” has such a different feel, it is almost like you are listening to a different album. But, it somehow works so well. This one has an almost Tom Petty meets the Beatles vibe, and probably would not work anywhere other than last on the album.

Which brings me to another point, song order is an important thing to me. I love when artists take the care to order the songs on their albums strategically in order to create a unique sonic experience and this album really delivers on that.

As far as negatives go, I found at times the layering and effects on the vocals muddled the lyrics, though this only happened a few times. Along with this, I also at times found myself begging for just a bit more lead guitar. With arrangements like this, you do not have space for full on solos and rely more on “riffage” which works well, but does occasionally leave you wishing for a little more lead.

Overall, this album is a great piece of sonic architecture that blends so many diverse elements together. The soundscapes that Wintersleep have created on this album are lush and inviting while still maintaining status as rock and roll. Throw this one on during your next road trip and I guarantee you will practically float to your destination.

Be sure to check out Episode 12 of The Party Podcast this Tuesday as Warren catches up with Tim from Wintersleep.


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