Wintersleep‘s LP, Hello Hum, demands a glass of Canadian Club and a massive window, covered in frost, overlooking the Cape Breton Highlands. Unfortunately, I had to resort to a humid St. Louis roof and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Simply a disclaimer; nothing more.
The record begins with an oscillating overtone filter on a simple synth, followed by an Eddie Money guitar-lick and a reggae-ton drum beat. However, the instant Paul Murphy’s vocals kick in (a strange cocktail of Matt Berninger and Paul Banks), the connotations attached to the other musical elements disappear, preserving an indistinguishably distinct aura.
Comparisons to Fleet Foxes, The National, and any folk-band that uses synths, are inevitable. However, there is something truly fucked, for lack words, about Wintersleep; a frustrating endeavor, to say the least. One wants to denigrate the gratuitous use of 808 drums underneath otherwise soulful folk rock (as portrayed in “Nothing is Anything Without You”). The uncomfortable dissonance, however, seems to be covered in the lyrics. Murphy sings, “It’s alright/You fuck all your love away,” accusing the listener of unjust criticism; who am I judge to their choice of texture when I can’t commit to anything longer than 24 hrs?
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The entire record seems to operate under this paradigm; making the reader feel slightly uncomfortable with affectations of hyper-modernity (embodied in the synths) attached to earnest folk melodies and texture. “Resuscitate” begins like a Lady Gaga remix, but quickly resuscitates itself with an genuine bar band anthem that climaxes at a waltz breakdown later in the tune. Still, the waltz is overwhelmed by another overtone filter, reminding the listener of the modernity that surrounds them. It says: 1991 was 21 years ago; get used to it.
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A track like “Unzipper” denotes a strong emphasis on live performance and the simple rhythmic alterations of “Rapture” suggests a great appreciation for musicianship and expectations related to Hanslickian values of absolute music. Overall, “Hello Hum” is an irksome record. The rhythmic diversity and apt use of harmonic and melodic devices would be enough without the technological affectations of co-producer Dave Fridmann (MGMT, The Flaming Lips). At the same time, the filters and synths generate a sense of sonic depth that would be absent otherwise. It’s a pragmatic record; it recognizes the limitation of cultural acceptance. “Hello Hum” is a record I wish I didn’t like, but I can’t help it.