In the course of the last year or so, hogging the middle lane of the motorway has become a criminal offense that carries a fairly hefty fine and penalty points. Canada’s Wintersleep have long been a safe and dependable band in delivering album after album of safe, pleasant and harmony driven indie rock (with a side order of Americana).
Until recently the very fact that they were so middle of the road painted them as being rather uninteresting and not in the slightest bit edgy. Now though, what with this new legislation, they’ve gained something of an outlaw spirit. They’re breaking the law. They’re a danger to public health. They’re really, really annoying when you’re stuck behind them when you’re going on holiday.
The truth is, of course, that on their sixth album, Wintersleep haven’t gone down the crossroads and shaken hands with the devil. What they have done though is deliver yet another fine collection of safe, but eminently enjoyable songs, and in doing so, they’ve shown some quite commendable spirit.
When the process of writing The Great Detachment began, the band were without a label, but pressed on with creating new songs regardless. The recording process meanwhile attempted to capture some of the band’s live feel, and along with producer Tony Doogan, they adhered to a set of rules (three takes per song, that kind of thing) that focussed on adding a few rough edges and vigour to these songs. They also returned to the Sonic Temple studio in Halifax, where they recorded their first three albums, presumably as an attempt to reconnect with their roots.
There is an undeniable urgency to some of these songs, such as opening track Amerika which sounds absolutely enormous, yet stripped back. Doogan’s production might well make the band sound huge on occasion but he also gives the album a sheen that perhaps knocks the edges off a little. It’s also not in the least bit surprising to find that he’s worked with the likes of Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai, as there are times (the weird enthusiastic melancholia of Spirit for example) that The Great Detachment possesses a Celtic tinge that calls to mind the likes of Frightened Rabbit and even a sprig of Runrig.
The band hasn’t exactly gone into full experimental mode, but the album does at least attempt to show a few different sides to the band. The opening one-two punch of Amerika and Santa Fe lays bare the band’s rockier tendencies, with Santa Fe in particular adopting a spiky post-punk approach that marries a hook laden chorus to spiky guitars and a simple but propulsive beat. In a similar mode is Freak Out a more straight up number but one that never the less features guitars pushed to their limits squalling over an acoustic backing and Paul Murphy’s keen pop vocals. The amplifier hum at the end of the song acts as a reminder that the band are keen to retain their authenticity and vim (their song Weighty Ghost might have been their big hit, but it also hangs heavy like an albatross on occasion).
It’s not all big anthemic rock songs though, and Wintersleep are quite adept at showing their sensitive side too. Shadowless keeps things basic with its simple strum and languid vocal before the band switch through the gears and pile on the bombast. It’s an old trick, admittedly, but executed perfectly here. Love Lies meanwhile utilises synths and electronic pulses to give its direct indie-pop an air of War Of The Worlds. It might sound stupid, but it’s subtly done, and once again Murphy’s sweet vocals lead the charge. Beyond a few tweaks, and an attempt to rediscover the band they were, there’s little here that will worry long term fans of the band. The Great Detachment is full of unchallenging but nonetheless impressive indie rock songs. Yes, it’s middle of the road, but despite what recent changes to the highway code might suggest, that’s not necessarily a crime.