A music blog from Ireland.
A healthy stimulated band who clearly relish being together to jam and perform, this third album from Windings hears them go full throttle seven years after the first album appeared in the form of Steve Ryan’s solo material. Now a five-man outfit and cornerstone of the Limerick label Out On A Limb, I Am Not The Crow hears them tugging the strings and sticks of rock, pop and folk to create a masterful album of moveable parts.
One thing I’ve come to learn over the years is to not allow artwork and packaging to my influence opinion of what lies within. But the fact that the cover is a match to the title seems important and the psychedelic corvid imagery is striking, seeming to serve a secondary purpose, to distract from the bleak surrounding blackness that hints at how dark this album is despite the bright and lucid first impressions of the music itself.
The unusual mix of genres suggests proactive creativity with the music being a means to reflect and react, the folk-tinged tracks offering contemplation, the harder, faster numbers being the activity elicited as a result. But like that hint of distraction on the cover, diversion tactics seem to be a concept at the crux of I Am Not The Crow. There’s an Irish tendency to downplay gravity in favour of levity that can lift us up during times of pressure…we might joke in the face of tragedy or brush off public displays of emotion with a short word or brusque consolation. And with Windings’ intensely energised barrages of pep pop and raw rock veiling desperately dark lyricism, there’s a sense that this album embraces that aspect of our national demeanour, and in doing so, slags the hide off it.
There’s a set of low, sombre tones as the opener Sun On My Bones begins, akin to an uncertain pause before someone replies a falsely cheery “ah grand” when asked how they are. Then, to all outward appearances it seems at first very pleasant-sounding; misleadingly warm title, welcoming, gentle bassline, infectious guitars, clear vocal. But the words “it leaves me cold” send a chill down the spine and these are not empty filler to bridge the space between the hooks: they are the lines cast out before the guitar reels in a superb digression that draws this opener to a daring and highly fulfilling eight minutes.
It would be a craven, haughty move to dismiss everything this band have worked on in the past few years by saying this band have only really gelled and reached their full potential as a five-piece now, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say the balance struck in I Am Not The Crow is unequaled. From the art to the studio to songs so good I can hardly believe they were written in the mere two years since second album It’s Never Night was released in 2010, they’ve pulled out all the stops and aimed high. It’s paid off.
Windings constantly deflect the darkest aspects of this material with head-turning vocals, instrumental command and intuition towards the impact the tiniest sound can make. As rock music’s greatest attention-seekers, the guitars are naturally most dominant in the mix but it’s so skilfully engineered, there’s a very keen balance that ensures the full array of keys, bass and drums are given ample distance to shine. With the music arranged perfectly on point, there are two other main elements to this album that have for eked out great standing amongst the releases of 2012: excellent penmanship and a stronger selection of choruses than anything else I’ve come across this year. Forget the front-loaded nature of albums that place the catchiest refrains early on to garner the listeners’ attention; the magazine is fully loaded with lyrical bullets that wreak fantastic havoc, from the previous quote in Sun On My Bones there is no letting up. Soft folk burner Something Overlooked smoulders quickly, first single This Is A Conversation rampages: the onslaught of memorable vocal centrepieces blast out song after song. Somewhere in the night, a television sound editor is dreaming of Alkaterian are Alright‘s anthemic and rousing diatribe of “breathe in/slow down/sleep in” but it’s in Cleaner that the finest moment rears up in the bawl of “blinded by sound”, a disarming line of stunning simplicity that does justice to the complexity of the bond between a widowed employer and incumbent handyman. It’s not our lives we feel when hearing “threw some stones inside my home/I couldn’t hit a thing of consequence/Cos all here’s in need of some repair/but it works if you know how to use it” yet it still cuts to the quick of the basic empathy shared in human communication.
All the lyrics are first-person and rely on alliteration or assonant echoes rather than structured rhyme schemes. It’s important when writing pop and folk songs that the audience have strong ties to sing along to with feeling and the positions held by the first and last tracks are perhaps lyrically the most clear-cut and universally relevant portions of songwriting. For the rest of the songs things get gradually deeper and while not abstract, the words are for the most part difficult to relate to directly, with the title track I Am Not The Crow perhaps the most obfuscated in its true meanings. But importantly, the deprecating way that Sun On My Bones began with the deceptively cheery sound and spinechilling lack of hope, the finale of Local Broken Man is one that shrugs off the strange Irish habit of ‘ah it’s grand’ and ventures into a far more realistic topography of unstinting honesty, spares no bleak detail (“carcassed concrete caverns“) and yet, ends in such a way as to emphasise, celebrate, reward that moment of weakness with the first real glimmer of hope.
I Am Not The Crow is available to buy now on digital or vinyl on Bandcamp.