Winterpills is the sort of word you might expect to see on the side of a Crayola crayon, beside Bittersweet, Cornflower and Sunglow; the crayon itself would no doubt be something grayish-blue, a sort of "hazy shade of winter." But alas, no crayon has yet been named for the indie band from Massachusetts, formed in the melancholy dead of winter five years ago. Instead, we'll have to make do with "Central Chambers," the band's third full length album, the sonic equivalent of the aforementioned crayon, coloring a picture equal parts joy and pain, icy chill and bright winter sun.
The first track, "Everything," sets the tone immediately with a simple plucky ukulele and solo vocals giving way to a gentle, pleasant harmony reminiscent of Hansard-Irglova's duets in the film Once. Yet the frailty gives way to the big "Take Away The Words," an elegant, swooping pop anthem crisp as a winter breeze with overtones of light powder dusting your mittens. And this is followed by another change in tone, "Beesting"'s discordant electronic grumbles buzzing about beneath gentle harmony before the instrumentation kicks in with a big, bold march. Track 7, "We'll Bring You Down," is a forceful pop rocker with scary lyrics ("everyone will be afraid of everything"), layered instrumentation that feels almost progressive at points and a racing, loopy piano. Another standout is "You Don't Love Me Yet," shades of Mark Eitzel beneath lyrics about cigarettes and scabs and kisses, Sgt. Pepper-like harmonizing on the pretty, pleading chorus.
The album is loosely tied together by the subtle central motif of the human heart, both physical and emotional, which is presented not just lyrically but musically as well. "Burning Hearts," "Secret Blue Thread" and "Weary Heart" explicitly call out the circulatory system in their titles (as does the album title itself), but the true heart pulses underneath, with lyrics repeated like mantras ("When you feel the bee sting in your heart.") or songs like "Gentleman Farmer," which is about an old gentleman's heart literally breaking after the loss of his farm. The album is also filled with throbbing, pulsing percussion that alternately races and slows, whether it's hand claps skipping beats on "Burning Hearts" or the thumping drums on "Weary Heart" that speed, then slow, then fade beneath an electronic purr.
Several songs fade out into a buzz or a blur like this: "Gentleman Farmer" disappearing into static; "Wire"'s slow, sad hymnal--lyrics swirling like a thread of incense smoke towards heaven--ending with the sound of a saw, soulfully played by Dan MacLoed; "What Makes Me Blind?" building in intensity like a Tom Petty anthem before drifting off into an echo chamber full of blinding snow. Of course, death is not the end, and spring follows every winter, and in like fashion the album ends on a somber, yet hopeful note with "Immortal." Sung ever-so-delicately by Reed, the hymn calls to mind the quieter moments of Chantal Kreviazuk's "Surrounded," slow, simple piano and silky voice singing a lullaby for the dying ("You were born immortal, and you'll die immortal too.") before dying beneath the crackle and pop of an old vinyl album as the needle reaches the end of the groove, and lifts itself back up to start all over.
Favorite Track: "We'll Bring You Down"
Michael Fiegel is a freelance writer and graphic designer. His diverse
background includes journalism, radio copywriting, technical writing,
game design and music reviewing. He is best known as the creator of the
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