With their sixth album, The Great Detachment, Nova Scotian indie-rockers Wintersleep make no secret of their intention to play the big venues, and to play them hard. Every element of the album’s production – from the song writing through to the record’s mastering – shouts the band’s ambition, with songs featuring call-and-response and sing-along friendly lyrics, and the volume levels and EQs set for maximum punch over the radio waves. The slick and shiny production values present on The Great Detachment, and the band’s evident desire to draw a crowd and move into the big leagues, aren’t sins, but something with the album doesn’t sit right.
Amerika kicks the record off with a booming intro which quickly progresses to demonstrate a stadium rock vibe. It is an easy choice for lead single, exemplifying what Wintersleep is seeking to achieve with the album, however deciding to end the song after only three minutes forty feels premature, and this undercuts the solid – if by the book – song writing. Santa Fe follows in short order, continuing with the booming drums of Amerika, but lifting the pace considerably. Indie-rock meets electro-pop song, More Than, is the first song with a run time outside of the pop/commercial radio ideal of three to four minutes, which is great to see the band do, but it is a shame that there is nothing in the lyrics or music that justifies the song’s five minutes.
The vaguely prog-ish composition of Shadowless starts to flirt with the idea of stalling and failing to progress but luckily, and expertly, shifts gear and swells in the middle before mellowing for the final third of its duration. Continuing the slightly progressive theme, Metropolis features a gritty, lo-fi, guitar sound, with the music gradually shifting to match the tones of the rest of album. Both of these songs run for over five minutes and show that Wintersleep can push their genre’s boundaries and challenge the listener, and both are stand out tracks, so it is a shame that they are buried in the album’s centre. Who Are You, with its acoustic-folk vibe, is a bit of a mismatch with the overall tone of The Great Detachment, but is both a good song and a good choice for a closing track.
As the record runs its course, and it becomes clear that every song is imbued with a big sound and a precise and polished production – both in the recording and performance of the songs – the element that doesn’t sit right becomes clear: everything is a little too precise, a little too polished. The album, the songs, they would all be improved, and be far more compelling, if the band would just loose a little control, leave a few more of the rough edges, and let the music deliver some of the emotional punch.