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Windsor for the Derby

How We Lost

(Secretly Canadian; US: 20 May 2008; UK: Available as import)

How We Lost is the eighth album from veteran independent rock group Windsor for the Derby. The band’s been around for around twelve years now, in various forms and in various locations scattered around the country. They’re now based in Philadelphia, and have filled out the original duo’s at times sparse sound with a few new members and recording help from a bunch of other musicians. In their Philadelphia studio, you can imagine these seasoned musicians obsessively layering their familiar sounds into new arrangements of limpid psychedelic-tinged rock.


What might cause you to take an interest in a group like this—one that has remained firmly but unremarkably true to the musical ideas that it first lighted on all those years ago? Unfortunately, competent though it is, How We Lost seems to say, “not much.”  In 2006, Secretly Canadian reissued the group’s first two albums, Calm Hades Float and Minnie Greunzfeldt from 1996 and 1997, respectively; these may have sparked some new interest for the group. At the very least, they provided an instructive historical perspective. In comparison, How We Lost is much more mellow and coherent record. This is obviously the result of a more mature band.


The best songs on How We Lost create mellifluous springtime atmospheres out of which snatched melodies emerge. You feel like digging around in these songs to find the pop heart, but it resists easy discovery. Instead, on a static and lovely song like “Good Things”, the structures are intended to confound. The songs often stretch for four or five minutes, but it’s because there are long introductions and short codas; it’s a compositional technique Sonic Youth has also used successfully. “Maladies” is a more upbeat take on the general form established here, and it’s more impactful for the raised energy. And the final song on the album, “Spirit Fade”, is a sweet send-off. The mid-tempo song builds with stereo guitar lines into perhaps the closest the group has come to a triumphant chorus. Then it ends abruptly—a neat promise of more music to come from this workmanlike band.


You occasionally feel that the coiled nature of these songs could be reflected in some lyrics of particular insight—it’d match the studied intricacy of the guitar lines. Instead, we’re given platitudes and clichés: “I feel alone in the City / I wanna be near you always”, e.g., in “Good Things”. Without this impact, and lacking the muscular power of an otherwise similar band like the Besnard Lakes, Windsor for the Derby just sort of float by without leaving too much of an impact. Sure, the rhythms are offbeat, the guitar lines blend into each other in rich harmonies; it’s just that something—passion, maybe?—seems to be missing.


“Hold On” might be where Windsor for the Derby state most explicitly their goal for How We Lost. Over the big, echoing guitar lines the lyrics talk about finding “the secret place, the simple place”. The group’s interested in paradise; turns out it sounds something like the Jesus & Mary Chain. That’s OK, because that song, and a few others on the album, provide something close to an adequate soundtrack.

Rating:

Dan Raper has been writing about music for PopMatters since 2005. Prior to that he did the same thing for his college newspaper and for his school newspaper before that. Of course he also writes fiction, though his only published work is entitled "Gamma-secretase exists on the plasma membrane as an intact complex that accepts substrates and effects intramembrane cleavage". He is currently studying medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia.


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