Wintermute are the perfect kind of band for Oxford-based label Big Scary Monsters. Playful and somewhat cutesy, with their riffs brazenly cheerful, it looks like their debut release is going to find a comfortable home among the label that put records out from the likes of Blakfish and Tubelord.
The moment you press ‘play’ an immediately jaunty guitar riff, that is unmistakably Foalsian in style, explodes out of the speakers. But within ten seconds, it’s all change and the high-tuned guitars have already shifted to plains anew, all the while taking as much inspiration in its funky groove from the likes of the Chilli Peppers as it does with all these pop-math-rock bands that are increasing in numbers by the day.
The whole album is a fairly erratic, convoluted affair, with angular guitar lines sounding like the poppier offshoots of an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez album. ‘Ask A Stupid Question’ toys with the fine line between whimsical experimentalism and much angrier, angsty elements, and even the slower parts maintain an essential pulse to keep the foot tapping.
The trouble with this bouncy affair is that tedium settles in fairly soon. Despite the clever little ideas, that are peppered throughout the album’s running time, there’s very little that actually sticks in your head. Furthermore, a lot of Dan Howard’s vocal patterns are eerily alike on each song and struggle to find a comfortable match for the constantly evolving guitar patterns. There are a lot of moments where choruses are just made of everyone stabbing their instruments to coincide with Howard’s one syllable shouts, a trick that is pretty uninteresting the first time it happens, let alone the sixth.
Closer ‘Jambon! Jambon!’ leaves a great last impression however. Combining everything they’ve played about with on the album’s prior tracks, they create a four-minute track that is thrown from pillar to post. One minute it’s heavy and serrated, but the next it’s all broken down to just simple drums and guitar strums, before bursting out it’s shell again in a fantastic display of dramatic songwriting.
In the end, I’m left with a rather mixed reaction. ‘Robot Works’ starts with an instant shot of exciting adrenaline, but that burst of energy soon wears thin and begins to outstay its welcome. If this was an EP then the faults wouldn’t be so prominent, but Howard’s markedly laboured vocals come across as more of a chore, and his ‘unique’ style of delivery begins to grate on the ears, all exacerbated by the record’s length.
But then there are moments of beauty, such as the rather poignant piano interlude after ‘I Abandoned My Boy’ and its casual seaside segue into ‘Emerald Hill’, and these point to a band that have got a sense of ambition and imagination about them that a lot of artists lack. It’s an encouraging debut, but marred by what seems to be a band already stuck in its tracks. Still, Wintermute should be regarded as a promising prospect, and not just written off as a bandwagon-jumper.
Originally published at Sonic Dice.