There have been very few times in my professional career when I’ve been ravenously anticipating a record from a band that not a lot of people know about. Though we’ve been putting in the good word about them throughout this year, Winter People remain on a slow burn, something which will undoubtedly change as the result of their debut album coming out today. The Sydney sextet have really outdone themselves here, and it’s a shame I can only write about one song, because this isn’t an album with any discernible singles (aside from Wishingbone, but Mercedes-Benz already beat me to that one), rather something to be appreciated as whole, over a long, stormy evening. Listening to the whole thing alone and then in the company of loved ones, I’ve marvelled at how one guy can have a vision that he pursues over many years. Baskind has a management and label team around him now, yes, but at the time he began writing these songs, he had nothing to go on but his own gut. That A Year At Sea is so cohesive and endearing is a testament to how he truly got it right. Even though he told me he can’t even remember how it sounds because it all happened so long ago, one imagines he’s considerably pleased with how it turned out.
There’s a number of sides to Winter People’s sound, which can be loosely divided into ornate acoustic numbers with lots of multi-part harmonies and moody rockers that engage the band’s two string players to build into a passionate wall of sound. Though it’s the first of these which more ably shows off the band’s folk element and speaks better of Baskind’s influences, ranging from The National to Sigur Ros and beyond, there’s nothing quite like a kick-ass rocker to round out the week. ‘The Banker’s Lament’, which opens the record, conveniently showcases the fact that there are a lot of people in Winter People and that when they combine their superpowers, they come off sounding a bit like OK Computer-era Radiohead mixed with the more orchestral end of Silverchair’s spectrum. Obviously, there is no problem with this. Particularly impressive are the guitar parts here, which seem to comprise a small army and come in a swathe of different tones and octaves from the outset. Attention to detail is all the more impressive when the writing is as solid as this.
Lyrically, the ever-dreaming Baskind inhabits the body of a potential corporate suit as he marauds his way around the city after hours. If the seething contempt, or perhaps sorrow, is palpable, that’s ably assisted by the wordless chorus, which features a blood-curdling lead line Jonny Greenwood would be proud of, backed up by hellfire female vocals, violins and a lot of crash cymbals. If the Radiohead comparisons seem trite, then wait for the next verse, where the complexity of the chord structures reveal themselves and zaps of white heat burst out from left and right channels just like they did on ‘Paranoid Android’ way back when. This kind of thing is not easy to engineer, let alone conceive. There’s so much going on that it’s a guilty pleasure to listen to it only once, because you miss half of the excellent accoutrements that have passed you by while you were nodding your head. It comes to a head with a marvellous synchronised thrashing before dissipating into nothing but aching strings and Dylan’s voice. It’s a horrible thing to say, but the last fifty seconds are perhaps my favourite part of this song. It reminds me of all the great work alternative bands did in expanding their sound when I was growing up, taking symphonic elements and, for better lack of a word, ‘grunge-ing’ them up. The way the violin and viola swim around the melody, sliding down into their notes and back up again, really does it for me. It’s what Winter People continue to do best, crafting a mood, building suspense and then taking a sharp left turn just because.
No, they’re not my kids and no, I don’t manage them, either. But I’m really proud of them.
Winter People – ‘The Banker’s Lament’