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When diving into Australian indie darlings Winter People’s debut long-player, A Year at Sea, the first impression you get is that you’re greeted with a couple of things. Sophisticated melodies and hypersensitive lyrical construction envelope what is, in all respects, a very ambitious record for the young six-piece.
Indeed, they proclaim in an early track over a ball-busting guitar riff that they are “going to make a change”.
The only problem with this is that it’s hard to detect what kind of change they anticipate creating. It feels as though, upon the first listen, that the band have really just crafted a very pretty record that sits nicely inside its genre.
There are certainly some very pleasant moments on the record: the duet of violins and competent use of harmonies create swirling soundscapes that you can find yourself truly embroiled in. However, it’s difficult to truly embrace the album when, for the large part, the band are forcing lyrical clichés and painting landscapes that have been seen time and time again in this genre of music.
The Winter People, ironically, talk of moving to a place where it “doesn’t rain” and their pockets are “full of holes”. Whilst they’re nice images in themselves, it’s been done in records past. When listening to the album, it’s hard not to be brought back to contemporary bands in the field like The Head and the Heart, and perhaps a less symphonic Arcade Fire. The key difference is that both of these bands found ways to either implement the clichés effectively or avoid them all together.
Thus, if you go into this record expecting safety, you’ll probably be very pleased. Ethereal folk is showing no signs of decline at the moment, in fact we may have a surplus of it. That being said, Winter People make some very nice folk music with tracks like Wishingbone and Gallons, coming in very early in the record. Some moments feel as though the group are heading towards the baroque trend in alternative folk music at the moment, similar to the work of Beirut or Dark Dark Dark,
A Year at Sea is a record that I feel tends to shoot above its weight. Whilst it’s a pleasant listen, it feels as though they’ve released this record a little too late. What they have tried to achieve here has already been done. That being said, if you’re just looking for some enjoyable alternative folk tunes, this album is right up your alley. I think when these guys play Harvest in Melbourne, I’ll have to pop along and catch at least some of their set; it feels as though this is a record you have to hear live to fully grasp.