[19 April 2010]
Wintersleep, one of Canada’s national musical treasures, work in layers. Their sound is a dense one, textured but never mechanical. The band manage to combine a traditional, rock-oriented organic mentality with thick patterns that create songs that are at once complex and simplistic. Each member of the band brings something precious and fruitful to the table. You’d assume, then, that to deconstruct their sound, pulling a member of Wintersleep out and letting his influence on Wintersleep run amok wouldn’t lead to fertile results.
Paul Murphy, Wintersleep’s guitarist and lead singer, has created Postdata, a remarkably adept solo effort that may remind many of Wintersleep’s simpler, acoustically-inclined tracks. Postdata is a solo record in the truest sense. Murphy plays alone, coaxing his dusty, seemingly haunted acoustic guitar into some fairly melancholic grooves. But Murphy demonstrates a certain benevolence on Postdata. Depressing as their beginnings may be, most of Postdata‘s nine tracks bloom with the patience on which Wintersleep pride themselves. “Tracers”, a swaying thing of beauty, is one of the better examples of Murphy’s role in Wintersleep. As the track builds from a simple acoustic sway, a massive melody emerges. While Wintersleep still won’t gain play on pop stations anywhere, melodies do exist in their songs, and on Postdata these melodies show themselves in spades. Paul Murphy, an underrated singer/songwriter, truly shines on Postdata.
Recorded as a gift for Murphy’s parents and using his grandparents as a constant motif, Murphy exercises his demons throughout Postdata. When those aforementioned melodies kick in, however, Murphy utilizes another motif: recovery. And it works well. Very well. “Tobias Grey” strikes immediately as a spooky shuffle, but the chorus reminds us that there is always room to recover, be it for the protagonist of the tune or the precise-sounding turns that the track takes. “Tobias Grey” emerges as one of Postdata‘s more beautiful tracks.
“Welcome to the night / We brought our fists to fight / We are not leaving”, Murphy croons on the delicate “Warning”, showing classic Wintersleep defiance, but in a new setting. How Murphy manages to cram so much emotional intensity into three minutes is beyond me. However, that might be one of Postdata‘s shortcomings.
Whereas many Wintersleep songs stretch far across a sonic landscape, Murphy rarely allows his songs ample room to breathe on Postdata. “Paranoid Clusters” features a rippling melody, as Murphy fingerpicks his way into some fairly weighty territory. Clocking in under two and a half minutes, though, what could have been a massive track falls flat under time constraints. It could be argued that one man and an old guitar can only do so much, but with Murphy’s penchant for expanding his songs so wide that they create their own language, there are points on Postdata that are mildly disappointing.
Maybe that’s the point of Postdata: Paul Murphy showing listeners that songs don’t need to be big to be powerful. “In Chemicals” sounds as if Murphy is singing to you in the other room, and it’s the persistent capabilities of Murphy, even in this small, piano-tinged rainy afternoon waltz that give Postdata its resonance and staying power. Murphy isn’t a frontman extraordinaire, charming crowds and wooing the masses into submission. On Postdata, however, he reveals himself as a piece of the bigger picture. Postdata demonstrates the capabilities of humans both in his lyrics, which speak to the recovery of a wounded human spirit, and in the sound of one man, playing an old guitar in the other room of your old house.