Not much to say here. The Winter Sounds moved themselves near the top of my review pile with the simple driving drum beat with sparse bass drum that kicks off the album. I knew nothing of them previously, and still don't know too much about them other than that this is their debut album and that they are from the famous rock town of Athens, Georgia. No weird backstory, no ex-members of known bands, so let's get back to that beat!
"Windy City Nights" has that simple yet effective beat, followed quickly by guitar and Patrick Keenan's epic, Morrisey-eque vocals. The chorus breaks down in what could be an emo trapping for some bands but is presented strongly enough to avoid it, in part thanks to the vocals that are full and open, not the least bit nasal or whiny. "Gone to Save Mankind" is another song that is musically strong with rising and falling scales on vibraphone, and pushed to a higher energy level by drummer Donovan Babb's crazy polka-turned-punk beat. While all other instruments move by swiftly, Keenan's vocals sustain over the top, providing a pleasant contrast.
When "A Call to Arms," the lengthiest track here, gets to its outro, everyone drops out succumbing to a reprise of the strong guitar intro now doubled by the keyboard, and as it repeats and is joined by the rest of the band, I can't help but think of Andrew W.K. Not that it's metal in any way, just that the melody is quite epic and repeated until it's driven into your skull, a method he uses frequently. Then you've got the next track "Minnesota," an understated acoustic number with light electric guitar and occasional keys underneath, and with all that reverb on the vocals it's got me thinking Shins. "Poor Sailors" starts subdued and slow with a violin providing countermelody for vocals. Nice enough, but it really grabs me in the chorus when it suddenly shifts gears in tempo and feel opting for a Taking Back Sunday-style hook, and that's not a bad thing because it's not the only trick in their arsenal. Plus, TBS don't have the tastefully layered violin, synth and piano under their hooks, like in their last chorus. I don't think I've ever compared a band to three artists on such opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
This says something for the Winter Sounds. They don't seem 'weird' at all, everything goes down smooth. They don't sound disjointed either, using common yet wide-ranging textures with Keenan's vocals tying everything together. I'm trying to find something bad to say about this album, but am having trouble. Though it is a lengthy album, so there are bound to be a few lesser tracks. "The Great Forgotten" isn't that great and "Sound Forged Like a Spine" passes by without much notice. "Sad Reminders" doesn't have the best of melodies and the verses with punk double-time drumming seem a bit out of place, even among this indefinable band's repertoire. Also of note -- I finally made my way to the band's MySpace to discover that save vocalist Keenan and keyboardist Gina Asalon, the lineup is completely different than on Porcelain Empire. Seems a bit odd, and is a concern because no band can change three-fifths of their members and sound the same. For better or for worse?
With no interesting tidbits to win me over, the Winter Sounds did it purely aurally (or did producer Colin Cobb maybe invent the Cobb salad?). I think they could win a lot of you over too by covering a lot of ground and finding something for almost everybody who enjoys melodic indie/punk/post-punk/pop-punk/emo/whateveryoucallit rock.