Signature Sounds/Soft Alarm
It’s obvious from the opening notes here that Northampton, Massachusetts’ Winterpills owe a large debt to Elliott Smith. The minor key melancholy is certainly there. But where Smith often let little light into his gloomy outlook, the delicate sound of Winterpills comparatively soars on the harmonies of Philip Price and Flora Reed.
On the appropriately titled “Laughing,” the band even displays a good sense of humor amidst one of the album’s catchiest melodies. “I tried to find our flat but God would never ever let us have the keys to that,” Price sings. “I tried to buy a house but the deal she offered me would mean you have to call me Faust.” One tune later Price sings, “There’s miles more heartache yet to go through.” But there in the background are Reed’s airy harmonies and vocal counterpoint to keep this song from being anywhere near depressing. Even tunes like the enigmatic, almost robotic “Want the Want” can’t help but soar with those harmonies. And where the record stumbles melodically (“Letter to a Friend in Jail”) or lyrically (“Looking Down”), the band’s textured, poignant sound combine with the gorgeous vocals to allow them to get by.
And those traits make the strongest tracks here mesmerizing. The haunting minor hit “Pills for Sara” sounds like what might have happened if Elliott Smith had listened more to The Doors than The Beatles. But the pretty mellotron on “Found Weekend” indicates Winterpills have ingested the Fab Four too. Belle and Sebastian is a reference point as well on “Threshing Machine.” And though “Portrait” is one of the more straightforward pop tunes here, it’s the curious harmonized refrain of “there’s honey in the chemicals” that gives it a beautiful air of mystery.
The debut from Winterpills has enough hooks to grab you from the outset and enough complexity and emotion to make you want to listen again and again.