The Windmills: Sunlight

Jason MacNeil

The Windmills


Label: Matinee Recordings

The Windmills are one of a plethora of British pop bands who have the melodies and harmonies needed to break into the spotlight, but for either time or circumstances, churn out great songs to a miniscule yet devoted audience. With one album under its belt with 2000's Edge of August, the band are back with another melodic series of highbrow pop gems that could be compared to Echo & The Bunnymen as well as early Pulp or the undervalued (except in South Korea) Rialto. Beginning with a gorgeous mid-tempo alternative guitar rock arrangement in "Unkiss", lead singer and guitarist Roy Thirlwall has a lot in common with Pulp's Jarvis Cocker in terms of his tone and delivery.

"Pounds, Shillings and Pence" is another strong tune that falls in between the Cure and the Smiths, if that's possible. Guitars here resemble the cool and collected approach Johnny Marr made so fashionable while the rhythm guitars have that distinct Cure sound. The tune winds quite easily through its three minutes and change. "Taxi Fare" is probably the album's first of many shining moments, a deliberately paced ballad that describes British urban life. Picking up the tempo when the harmonica kicks in, the song moves to and fro between styles at a lovely leisurely rhythm. If there is a downside to the song, it's perhaps because it tends to be far too tight, not allowing for the groove to continue an extra minute or two.

A lot of British groups rely on simply being British and dropping the lilt into shoddy lyrics just for style or brownie points. But the Windmills don't opt for that cliché, especially on "When It Was Winter". Sounding more like Morrissey here than at any other point on the record, Thirlwall reflects on the past and love gone astray. "I don't care anymore, I don't care anymore", he sings just slightly above a rich sonic landscape. The brevity of the songs, though, brings to mind current Brit pop darlings Belle and Sebastian. Probably the nadir of the album is "She's So Hard", average attempts both musically and lyrically. "Get me out of here," Thirlwall says, perhaps showing a deeper meaning for the listener. Although it doesn't drag, the song shouts unoriginal.

Side two begins with a rousing and rollicking "Boxing Glove", with drummer Pete Spicer coming to the forefront. The use of horns and a rather funky bass line propels it along, making it quite comparable to Pulp's His N' Hers album. The Go Betweens are another group that comes to mind when listening to "Cloud Five", a downbeat affair with piano and tension that builds before disappearing. The wording of the '80s synth flavored "Be Groovy Or Leave" is a bit difficult at times, but the song has a lush flow and fluidity to it. The echo effects also give it a nice texture. "Untouch" is basically a musical reprise of "Unkiss" with an identical tempo and arrangement and barely audible harmonies.

The Windmills will never be accused of rejecting a good musical idea simply because of its time period or hipness. "Drug Autumn" reverts back to gorgeous if bleak guitar chords over some brief keyboard punctuation. "What I gave up was far more precious than what I gained / But by then it was already too late," Thirlwall sings with as much Robert Smith reflection and disappointment as possible. The Windmills have created a real corker of an album, one that probably will sink commercially. Perfect for those who, to quote a line from the last track enjoy "listening to Lou Reed records and never going out". If only pop bands honed their craft this well.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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