The Windmills: Now Is Then

Jason MacNeil

The Windmills

Now Is Then

Label: Matinee
US Release Date: 2003-11-03
UK Release Date: 2004-01-19

The Windmills are a band who create flawless pop songs, or so they did on 2001's Sunlight. The group, consisting of singer Roy Thirlwall, guitarist Tony Pankhurst, bassist Dan Parkhurst, and drummer Rob Clarke, have returned with another album that still has all the greatness of previous records without repeating themselves too often. The fact that it was recorded over seven days, but over the course of nearly two years, might be cause for alarm. But not to worry, this is another gem. Recalling the finest days of bands such as the Go-Betweens and the little known group with Morrissey and Marr, "Ever to Exist" is a mid-tempo melancholic pop tune that glides along effortlessly à la a Cure ballad. "You are the most delicate innocent human being ever to exist", Thirlwall sings before the song evolves slightly. Sounding just a bit resigned, the Windmills are at the top of their game on this tune.

What is apparent is that the band shines from start to end, although some fans of British pop might find them a bit too sweet in the vein of Belle and Sebastian. "Beach Girls 1918" has enough "ba da bah"s and "do do do"s within to make some turn their ears away, but the Pulp-ish mood and Brit charm carry the song without fault. It moves a bit faster here but glistens courtesy of Clarke and Pankhurst (both of them). The sing-a-long refrains are repeated near the ending, but the guitars become grittier and a tad harder. It makes one wonder what the hell they are doing on a small indie label, no offence intended at Matinee. But the jangle-heavy pop seeps to the surface on the brilliant title track, toeing the line between New Order and the Smiths. Thirlwall gives just enough effort to make it work, but not much more, sounding rather monotonous in spots on the song. The tight guitar combination is another asset, with both playing off each other as the group rocks out for the first of a few instances. The movie Lost in Translation should've included this nugget!

Taking a bit of steam out of the proceedings is "Footprints", a sparser and far tamer tune that has a slower Blur or the Housemartins vibe. The group isn't taking a rest here, but the dichotomy between this song and its predecessor shows the range the Windmills have. The slow building "Walking around the World" closely resembles something from U2's The Joshua Tree sessions, with the gorgeous military-like drumbeat and the guitar just accentuating Thirlwall's vocals. The deliberateness they give the song makes it all the more anthem material. "All roads seem to lead to me / What a funny place to be", Thirlwall sings with a hint of irony in his voice and minus Bono's bombastic nature. He leaves that to the band, all hitting the ground running with the payoff coming at its monumental end. But the album ebbs back again with the Cure-ish "Your Fingers and Mine", a very good song that still pales somewhat compared to others on the near dozen-track record.

The second half of the record bristles with "Something Spring", a track that brings to mind "Sally Cinnamon" from the Stone Roses. Again the group is tight, but not enough to stifle any of the solos or musical highpoints. Possibly the only departure musically from the record is "Across the Playing Fields", with Thirlwall making high notes more often than not. The swaying and lush melody is excellent, although the slow dance tempo makes the arrangement flow. The bridge doesn't quite come off as spotless, but it's still able to keep you interested. The jam '70s ending leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth. "Amelia" is the first to divert from the pattern of fast-ditty-and-then-slow-ditty. Reeking of Nick Drake's lilt, the effort is pretty but seems stilted in some flowery areas. "Amelia, don't throw your reckless dreams away / You're going to need them one of these days", go the lyrics of this possibly one-take effort.

One last urgent kick at the can comes in "Summer Snow", a rather polished pop rock number that takes a while to get inured to. Harking back to Joy Division or early New Order, the tune than moves into a style that Modern English perfected at one time. It is also the winding song on the record, moving from light alternative rock to heavy guitars and back. "Time Machine" ends it on a good note, more anthem-like foundations bringing the song to fruition. Talking about mundane things like going to a supermarket, the Windmills are able to create one magnificent nugget after another. If you like British pop, or just outstanding yet meticulous pop in general, do yourself a favor!

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