For their tenth anniversary, Winterpills celebrated by making a delicate-yet-rocking record simply entitled "Love Songs." It would be easy for those not fully familiar with Philip Price's somewhat melancholy songwriting approach to expect a collection of upbeat romantic tunes.
Not so. "At first, it was a simple, slightly ironic album title" explained Price. "A kind of evasion of the whole idea of titling an album, really, or try into find a theme when really its just a collection of songs I wrote one the course of a couple years. But once it stuck to the songs, the songs themselves suddenly began to feel like love songs of all different kinds: Obsession. Love of unattainable things. Love of celebrity. Self-denial. The title shed a light on facets of the songs I hadn't seen."
The sound of "Love Songs' has the overall sound one comes to expect from Winterpills: lush, catchy, and hypnotic chamber-pop, driven by the exquisite harmonies of Price and his partner Flora Reed. But what separates the new CD from their previous home-grown recordings are the flourishes that co-producer Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Kim Gordon, Speedy Ortiz) added to the mix at his Sonelab Studio. "Justin, changed the game for us: we did almost everything totally live, we really used the room for natural reverb, and Justin has a real feel for how to capture enormous sounds as well as subtle ones. We felt freed to rock a lot more, essentially."
After a decade together, Winterpills - who will be appearing tomorrow in Bellows Falls - has not necessarily changed its sound. They have refined it. "I am secretly proud of our lack of evolution" claimed Price. "I'm joking. Or am I? In many ways, there is pressure on bands and artists to evolve and change, but what if what you are is a simple and vital source that you can return to? That's what we are, to us. We aren't trying to NOT evolve and we probably have, but it's not something you can force upon yourself for the sake of fashion or to shake things up. I do think we rock more; and I do think of us very much as full-on rock band, though we keep getting pegged as gentle, heartwarming acoustic. I think that's baloney and if you listen closely you'll know I'm right. I think deep down we're a black metal band. who can also play very, very, very gently."
The new record is filled with gentle and rocking gems. And if the measure of an album's excellence is that your favorite tracks shift after each listen, "Love Songs" fits that bill. My most recent listen had me digging Price's poetic contemplation of suicide, "He Grew a Wall" ("So the wind told a lie/You were deceived by the sky/The Sun refused your call/The moon denied it all") "It was really my attempt to live in the skin of someone I barely knew and its very presumptuous of me, but lets just say I've lost several important people in my life to suicide and this song comes out of my proximity."
Anther highlight is the haunting "Freeze Your Light" ("All their faces were dull and faded/Blues all washed out and pixilated/ But I will keep the camera on you/Freeze your light"), one of many Price compositions that uses photographs metaphorically. "It's more about memory, and photographs are an outward manifestation of our desire to remember and be remembered," explained Price. "I'm kind of obsessed with the mechanics and frailties of memory, how our inner narratives are so vital to our sense of self and yet completely phony, badly recalled, reconstructed, heavily edited. But it's all we are."
The album's photographic cover is as hypnotizing as the tunes, depicting bloodstained fox staring intently into the camera. "I found it on a Spanish photographers website (José Iñesta Vaquero) and borrowed it initially as a placeholder for future art. I paint, I was planning on using my own paintings for the album art, but it just never quite came together. The fox kept bearing witness to the album making process . So we reached out and bought the rights from the guy, who was very happy to help. He told us the tale of how he was driving around looking for something to photograph and pulled over when he saw this fox. It turned into a staring contest, a moment of true connection between the wild and the civilized. Much like love."
Winterpills with Arc Iris will be at Popolo's Windham Ballroom. 36 The Square, Bellows Falls on Friday, Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance online at popolomeanspeople.com or at Popolo Restaurant, or $24 at the door, if available.
Dave Madeloni writes music reviews for the entertainment section of the Brattleboro Reformer.