The minutiae matters on Winterpills’ fourth release, Tuxedo of Ashes, as the Northampton, Massachusetts five-piece string up a strong set of paisley-tinged, beautifully orchestrated folk rock. The EP’s opening song, the psychedelically titled “Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?” breaths out a fragile acoustic guitar line like a lungful of smoke. Songwriter Philip Price’s subtly questioning overlayed vocals dwell on the tiny details (“I thought I saw your eyes move / underneath your eyelids”) as an obsessive romantic edges dangerously close to stalker-lite tendencies, singing “I will hover above you / Create shadows of you / Find the one to love you.” The narrator’s inherent creepiness only becomes more endearing as the song unfolds into a humming mellotron that gels magically with Flora Reed’s soft-spoken harmonies.
“Hallway (The Top of the Velvety Stairs)” builds like a wave that never crests, directly addresses the listener with twisty trick questions like, “How do you know the stars are gonna be there / When you get to the top of the velvety stairs?” The lingering questions unanswered play out like shadow versions of the pitter-pat pianos ringing out beneath fuzzy percussion and chiming guitars.
Price often explores the inner lives of confused or angry outsiders, illustrating pain and grit with an eccentric grace. “The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder” crescendos within a soft bed of strings and wordless chants, finding beauty even as the narrator drinks himself to the brink of madness. Reed takes the lead on standout downer love song “A Magnet – To The Light!” The song’s soft devastation leads Reed and Price to the same conclusion, letting the off-the-cuff observation that “Something about you died” roll of their tongues like a velvet wrecking ball. Album closer, “Tuxedo of Ashes” is bogged down by lyrics that try a little too hard (Underneath the mackerel sky / With an ice chip on my shoulder / And a snowflake in my eye”), but the swaying melody eventually floats away with help from a willowy organ line and spiderleg mandolins. The track poetically imagines lovers succumbing to the plights of war, again linking love and death in an unbreakable embrace. Overall, Tuxedo of Ashes is a wonder of small observations and subtle instrumentation and feels much larger than it’s short running time would suggest.
Favorite Track: “A Magnet – To The Light!”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.