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Welcome to the Night Sky

Rating: 7/10 ?

October 13, 2008
Living in a crowded, light-polluted city, my night sky is punctuated by buildings and planes. While those growing up in more sparsely populated areas were afforded an expansive black, starry dome above them, my nocturnal field presented me with what resembled a gray, vaguely freckled ceiling. And yet, for all of my inexperience with the classically depicted night sky, I nonetheless feel somehow connected to a false sense of stereotypical nostalgia. Likewise, Wintersleep's Welcome to the Night Sky resonates in the same inexplicably familiar way.

With Wintersleep's emergence, the five-piece outfit hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia proves to be another promising, Maple-leafed addition to indie rock's new class. The flood of Canucks who have gained success in the United States (see: Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene, et al.) has made a strong case for Canada's formidable music scene. Now regarded as an indie rock Mecca, America's northern neighbor continues to churn out the latest wave of artists.

Judging by their previous album titles - an eponymous debut and an untitled sophomore LP - it would seem that Wintersleep is continuously at a loss for words. Yet, on the contrary, frontman Paul Murphy can't say enough, often taking liberties with conventional lyrical phrasing to include every last word and thought. Their third release, Welcome to the Night Sky offers up accessible indie rock which, at times, adopts a folky disposition. While the album doesn't diverge too greatly from their first two efforts, artistic growth is certainly evident in their instrumental arrangements and lyrical content. Perhaps the band's ability to evolve comes from their involvement with outside projects: Wintersleep's members have at one time or another collaborated with other groups, namely Holy Fuck, Kary, and Contrived.

Welcome to the Night Sky succeeds at maintaining a consistent sound of driving rhythms and heavy reverb. The range established also works well in differentiating the changing mood: guitars that twinkle and fuzz out; swallowed, warbled vocals and soaring harmonies; instrumental distortion and then, clarity. Similar to that of Cease to Begin, Band of Horses' 2007 release, the guys from Wintersleep create a dark and distant, spacey atmosphere. All of their nuances attempt to evoke a sense of feeling small, alone, and up against a big, threatening universe. For the most part, their efforts deliver.

With its jaunty riffs and a full sound, the album opens with the solid "Drunk on Aluminum." There's something to be said about the dichotomy between the album's idea of innocent, yet sophisticated fantasy versus the unfortunate mundanity of reality. In mere minutes, Wintersleep changes course from "Archaeologist," an account of an unearthed winged boy, to "Murderer," which predictably departs from a child-like naiveté. In "Search Party," Murphy laments, "I used to dream about saving the world/ Now I just dream about the holidays."

Amidst these tunes for the defeated, not all is lost in Welcome to the Night Sky. "Oblivion" provides strong, purposeful vocals that are more declaratory that inquiring; you might even find yourself repeatedly chanting the syllabled "oblivion" while doing some random chore. Murphy shows off a sweet, subtle vibrato on "Dead Letter and the Infinite Yes" that is complimented by haunting backing "ah's." At times, the vocals are a bit drawn out and there is little to counterbalance Murphy's wavering tone. On the whole, however, the band's strengths tend to trumps their few missteps.

Though somewhat out of character for their portrait of the night sky, the stompy "Weighty Ghost" serves as the only sunny spot of the collection, with bright melodies and handclaps. The album closes with the knockout "Miasmal Smoke and the Yellow Bellied Freaks," an eight-plus minute opus; quite fittingly, its varying textures of distortion break into clear, parting shots. Unlike other tracks on Welcome to the Night Sky, the loquacious Murphy allows the lazy hum of instrumentation to carry the song until making some last remarks during its up-tempo conclusion. This gallop to the end is arguably Wintersleep at their best.

While it is generally satisfying, Welcome to the Night Sky's main draw is the bigness of sound, the warmth, and the fullness they are capable of creating. It is an ambitious project that attempts to introduce something massive and abstract and personal in ten tracks. To their credit, Wintersleep encompass a range of ideas to present their portrayal. Hearing the album's songs for the first time, live in New York's cavernous Terminal 5, had been a more effective way of experiencing the music; the physical atmosphere played up the echoing rush of sound. Live or recorded, Wintersleep know how to give an introduction.

Reviewed by Lara Longo
Lara Longo is a writer and photographer from Brooklyn, NY. In 1989, Lara received her first CD player and album, Appetite for Destruction; ever since, music is something she has fawned over, hated on, and played loudly. Her work has also appeared in Relix and New York Cool. Lara’s interests include sharks, European television, and the Hammond B3 organ.

See other reviews by Lara Longo



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