What better way to deal with the burgeoning summer than to attempt to psychically reclaim some cool by listening to a band with the word winter in their name? As it turns out, you could do worse than listening to The Declining Winter’s Haunt The Upper Hallways. It may not cool you down totally, but this sweeping record will certainly have you idly snoozing through the heat while you chill out and ponder less fiery surroundings.
The Declining Winter is just one of the ways that Richard Adams vents his musical vision, the other being Hood, just one of the Domino label’s more cultish acts. With production values that are decidedly based in the bedroom, there is a distinctly DIY feel to proceedings.
This is not to say that The Declining Winter are myopic in their vision; indeed this is a very ambitious record.From the outset these spindly folk tunes aspire to be epic. Adams’ vocals drift across these soundscapes like a barely heard whisper, which is something of a blessing seeing as his voice is not the most incendiary. When he’s present vocally, there’s a distinct shoegazey appeal to proceedings. There’s also a nagging wish for him to bugger off and let the songs develop instrumentally, as that’s when things are at their most interesting.
The throbbing bass, gentle strings and guitar motifs of the title track are perfectly judged, creating a somnambulant atmosphere that drips with opiate influence. Where The Severn Rivers Tread is a wonderful amalgam of staccato strings, swelling bass, jazz infused drums, and all manner of percussion. If Adams could have kept his peculiar wailing voice in check, it would have been perfect.
At times his ideas seem to have been clipped before they’ve been allowed to expand. The backwards guitar and strings of Red Brick Houses is mildly unsettling but also hypnotic, but it’s over before it begins and never really grabs hold.
My Name In Ruins has the capacity to incite a fuming hatred in the listener by including some horrific guitar “twangs” that are wilfully out of tune. It’s like some kind of satanic sitar emulator, which emits effluent over any track it’s being used on.
But for all of these gripes there are plenty of nice touches on Haunt The Upper Hallways. It is a fleeting lullaby that passes by discreetly, encouraging the listener towards sleep. In this heat it’s easy to be drawn towards The Declining Winter and then onto Richard Adams’ ever so slightly skewed dreamland.