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Album Review

Winterpills
Tuxedo of Ashes

I feel like the guy on the episode of Night Gallery or one of those other fantastic/sci fi/horror TV shows who survives the earwigs eating their way from ear to ear only to find that they had laid eggs, except that mine somehow damaged the part of the brain controlling addiction and happiness and I find myself happily addicted to Winterpills. Well, not exactly Winterpills, but to a Winterpills track titled Feed the Spider, track two on their new and very impressive Tuxedo of Ashes EP. The earwigs began their journey on Friday during a drive to the Coast (and back) when I put the disc into the player. Hours later it was still there, repeating the six songs ad infi(length of the trip) at which time I ejected that puppy, took it inside and popped it into my computer system and continued listening. Two days later it's still playing and all I can think is, has it only been two days? If it has, they have been two of the best days I've had this year (and I've had some beauties, believe me).

There is something about this band which reaches way down inside and plucks strings which seldom get plucked and I love it. I thought I got it when Are You Sleeping (cinnamon, cardamom, lothium)? grabbed my ear at the get-go, the music reaching across the decades to the late sixties and the pop/folk/psych era. The production values lie somewhere between Simon & Garfunkel and The Dirty Shames (the 60's folk rock group, not to be confused with the rockers of today), the song itself a potpourri of those artists plus maybe The Cyrkle during their more folky moments, The Pozo Seco Singers during their more poppy ones, with a sprinkle of the psych that made Randy Burns' Song For an Uncertain Lady the folk/psych classic that everyone missed. Soft yet powerful, rhythmic and floating, it is a dreamscape tribute to four who left us just this past year--- Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous, Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel. If they were still with us, I couldn't imagine them being anything but pleased.

Speaking of Feed the Spider, it could easily have been a leftover from the famed T-Bone Burnett/The Mods collaboration released as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill, the slight nod toward UK and European folk traditions overtaken at the end with psychedelic building blocks of sound. It is that drive to the end that surfaces in my head, building toward an inevitable end. Philip Price explains it and the other EP tracks this way: “I seemed to have accumulated a glut of what I thought of as my Hey Jude's--- 5-minute-plus songs with huge dramatic endings.” May he accumulate many more.

All six tracks are outstanding but if I have to choose a present favorite, it would be The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder. There is an underlying fifties rhythm which completely disarms me, what sounds like a 12/16 time signature on the verse and an 16/16 on the chorus, and it sends me back to the days when music was exploration and when melody and harmony were sometimes overwhelming. I get an adrenaline rush every time I hear the layers of chorus until in my head I see a stage packed with exceptional singers joining hands in, as stated earlier, a journey toward that huge dramatic ending.

Tomorrow, I will have to push this aside for a short time because there are other albums I need to review--- good ones, also. But I won't do it lightly. It will be a struggle not to slip it into the player for a quick Winterpills fix (surely one won't hurt)--- if only to hear the modern folk edge of Hallway or the long ending of Feed the Spider--- but I know if I do that I will get even further behind. So I will end my night with a couple of more rounds of Tuxedo of Ashes and hope that that will suffice for awhile. I know it won't, but what can I say? Sometimes the life of a critic can be a total bitch. Heh-heh.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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