Photographs have been a recurring theme in the music of Winterpills since the band’s self-titled debut in 2005, but not the happy-family-vacation kind. Singer and songwriter Philip Price is drawn to the melancholy romance of inadvertent candids, of capturing fleeting moments that fade until they are lost to living memory. Ashes to ashes, gelatin-silver to dust.
It’s a fitting subject, given the air of melancholy that permeates Winterpills’ songs. They are often about dissolution, recrimination and regret, balanced with beautifully crafted folk-pop arrangements. Their latest, Love Songs, is the band’s first album of original material since All My Lovely Goners in 2012 (there was also a 2014 covers collection, Echolalia, that mostly featured Price and singer/keyboardist Flora Reed).
In a sense, Love Songs is a bigger album than Winterpills’ previous work. Though the quintet is very much part of the music scene around Northampton, Massachusetts, the band had kept its recent efforts largely in-house, recording and producing the music on its own. This time, they worked with Justin Pizzoferrato at his nearby Sonelab studio, which has played host to the Pixies, Kim Gordon, Speedy Ortiz and Parquet Courts, among others. Pizzoferrato helped the band achieve a fuller sound on these 11 new songs, particularly with drums and bass. The low end gets a boost on “Wanderer White,” and the bright snap of the drums and a gritty slide guitar riff lend urgency to the way Price harmonizes with Reed. “Chapel” is similarly expansive, with a simple acoustic guitar figure that builds quickly into a wash of drums and electric guitar, while “Bringing Down the Body Count” rides a robust rhythm that buoys Reed’s lead vocals, and frames a chaotic solo from guitarist Dennis Crommett.
In another sense, Love Songs is a continuation of what Winterpills has done so well all along. In addition to revisiting the photography theme on the ghostly remembrance “Freeze Your Light,” Price’s lyrics often evoke the natural world, with songs set in muted gray landscapes bathed in the wan light of late winter. That’s the vision suggested by the title of “A New England Deluge,” a bleak song with a deceptively jaunty musical arrangement.
Elsewhere, it’s more of a feeling, as on “He Grew a Wall,” an understated song with a descending acoustic guitar line that embodies the band’s chamber-pop leanings. The same sensibility applies on the murmuring opener “Incunabula,” and again on the closer, “It Will All Come Back to You.” The latter tune offers impressionistic pieces of a fractured narrative, told over somber piano chords, rich, choir-like layers of vocal harmony and an elegiac trumpet line as the song builds into an aching crescendo bolstered with turbulent waves of electric guitar. It’s essential Winterpills, situated at the intersection of longing and resignation, with a melody that lingers until all that’s left is a distant reverberation, dissolving slowly into the air.