By Allyson Bills
Hailing from Halifax in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia, rock stalwarts Wintersleep have been churning out albums since their 2003 self-titled debut. Besides releasing albums, Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Paul Murphy, vocalist/drummer Loel Campbell, guitarist/keyboardist Tim D’eon, bassist Mike Bigelow and multi-instrumentalist Jon Samuel, Wintersleep have won a Juno Award in 2008 and toured with the likes of Pearl Jam, The Hold Steady and none other than Sir Paul McCartney. However, after the release of Hello Hum, in 2012, Wintersleep decided to take a break from music. Four years later with a new label (Dine Alone Records) and management, they are back into the fold with their sixth album, The Great Detachment, which was recorded in Halifax’s Sonic Temple with their longtime producer, Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai). According to the Ottawa Citizen, The Great Detachment is an album that “chronicles a time of upheaval and rebirth” in the members’ lives.
The Great Detachment opens with “Amerika,” whose song intro could easily be mistaken for “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies. After listening to the first few seconds of “Amerika,” you would think that Wintersleep is reviving their sonic roots; think again. “Amerika” is an Americana tune with a rock twist. Murphy has a twangy voice that is soothing enough to cover his discern for the idiosyncrasies of “Amerika,” and his way to find the diamond in the rough with this line: “Perennial with the Earth // and freedom // I don’t want to die.” Besides the thought-provoking lyrics, the keyboards and pedal effects are tight, which gives “Amerika” both a clean and an edge to this already well-crafted song.
Wintersleep goes back to their rocking roots in “Santa Fe,” a song that is musically a perfect driving song. “Santa Fe” has some gnarly riffs in the beginning, which effortlessly switches over to steady bass and drum lines. The interlude in the 2:50 mark actually fits the overall structure of the song, which builds up to a keyboard ending. Despite a powerful chorus and Murphy’s ability to channel his inner Elvis Presley, the only reservation that I have with “Santa Fe” is the distorted vocals in verses. This style of vocals failed to enhance the overall quality of the song. It would have been an excellent song (than it already is) if Murphy sang in his normal voice. However, for the most part, “Santa Fe” is one of the highlight of The Great Detachment.
Shades of Americana are back in “Lifting Cure.” This is a mid-tempo song with roaring harmonies and searing keyboards. These components enable Wintersleep to create their own brand of Americana to set them apart from their contemporaries. I initially was indifferent about “Lifting Cure,” upon a couple of listens, but it has since grown on me, especially Murphy’s introspective, commanding lyrics. He doesn’t mess around, especially in the opening line: “Welcome to the edge of decay // Have you been here before? // You have lines in your face // Alone and hollow.” This opening verse will hold you hostage and want to lose yourself “Lifting Cure.”
The keyboards are the highlight of “More Than,” which gives this track a pop 80s vibe without it veering too far into this particular decade of music. The rhythm section synchronizes effortlessly with the keyboards, which enables Wintersleep not to overuse the keyboards. The gigantic chorus of “I love you more than I said” is a sweet addition to “More Than” and revitalizes an otherwise weak track.
Perhaps the largest extent that Wintersleep goes country is in “Shadowless,” a musically dark, brooding tune that complements Murphy’s somewhat twangy vocals. Overall, I found “Shadowless” to be lackluster effort from Wintersleep from the dull instrument lines and Murphy’s uninspiring, unnecessarily repetitive vocals of “I’m coming in // I’m shadowless.” These aspects make it obvious that “Shadowless” doesn’t conglomerate with the rest of The Great Detachment. “Shadowless” couldn’t even be saved; not even in the fourth minute when the rhythm section took this song by the horns; it was a little too late. “Shadowless” is a song that should have been honed longer and released as a B-side.
Wintersleep emulates Ryan Adams - without ripping him off - in “Metropolis.” This choppy-sounding number is a result of hand-clapping in the background with drum beats to match the claps. “Metropolis” lives up to its namesake with its booming guitars and thumping drum lines, and the lead guitar parts complement the chorus with overshadowing Murphy’s dreamy vocals. Murphy adds his jarring lyrics to this eerily rock tune, “I know who you are // Alone in your car // A memory you can never forget.” Listening to “Metropolis” is akin to walking alone in the dark on a city street feeling perfectly content. For this reason, it’s easily the best track off The Great Detachment.
The Americana rock strikes again with “Spirit.” This is bumpy tune as if you are riding in the back of a pickup truck mixed in with groovy bass lines. “Spirit” is similar to a rock version of Mumford & Sons, especially the vocals and the line, “Are you mystified?” Murphy has an incredible range to the extent that he has the ability to match his voice to the style of music. Murphy also evokes the “Spirit” in this track again with his powerful vocals, “Caught in the spirit of our times // Holes in the fabric of our lives // The great detachment in your eyes // Under the pressure.” This song has enough musical and vocal variety from making it sound too country.
“Freak Out” is a groovy tune with steady bass lines that simulates driving sixty miles per hour on a freeway. While the sound of “Freak Out” is very pleasant and flows effortlessly throughout, it’s very stagnant in that there are little chord changes that could have emphasized the chorus. I was expecting more of a “big sound,” especially with a strong song title such as “Freak Out.” However, Murphy’s poetic lyrics were on point throughout the track, such as “There’s thousands of ghosts // There’s many tears I can host.” As with the rest of “Freak Out,” I could pass on this track.
The keyboards are the star in “Love Lies.” The beginning of “Love Lies” has an electronic feel, which picks up with steady drums before the first verse. This was a relief to me because, based on the intro, it would not fit in within the makeup of The Great Detachment. Sound-wise, “Love Lies” is a well-crafted tune with the keyboards and drums working together in perfect harmony, and hooks galore throughout the song. Lyrically, however, it is a different issue altogether. Murphy’s lyrics on “Love Lies” were the corniest that I’ve heard on the entirety of the album. When I hear Murphy sing, “I’m apart of you // Tear me apart of you,” I think of cheesy bread at Red Lobster; therefore, I’m unable to take Murphy’s lyrics seriously in “Love Lies.”
The other highlight of The Great Detachment lies in “Territory.” Murphy again channels his inner Ryan Adams and dresses it up Wintersleep-style. Also, Wintersleep managed to tap fellow Canuck Geddy Lee of Rush to play bass on “Territory.” Lee’s bass playing makes a sizable difference on “Territory” because it added that extra “oomph” that the keyboards are unable to obtain with their given range. While listening to “Territory,” it appears to be a feel-good song about not conforming “Into the century // You’re not a factory.” This is always a reassuring feeling. However, the only aspect of “Territory,” that I would adjust is the harmonies to be consistent with the rest of the song because with how they are right now, they aren’t helping “Territory” to live up to its full potential.
“Who You Are” demonstrates the lackluster tracking sequence of The Great Detachment, because it’s a downer track of which to end an otherwise decent album. While listening to “Who You Are,” it’s very rushed. The track is 2:58 long, which is too short because it has the potential to play out for an extra minute. The ending is sudden, which makes it appear that Wintersleep wanted to add eleven tracks for the heck of it, regardless of whether or not it sounded “finished.” To Wintersleep’s credit, the lyrics on the song are outstanding, especially this line “Nothing to change // To do undo // It doesn’t matter what you say // It’s what is true.”
The Great Detachment is Wintersleep’s second best effort to date. It’s hard to beat their seminal 2007 album Welcome to the Night Sky. However, The Great Detachment is the beginning of a comeback of sorts for Wintersleep. Although The Great Detachment has aspects that needs improvement, it’s a solid album overall. If you are a fan of different types of rock, Americana or even country, you will enjoy Wintersleep’s The Great Detachment.