LOVE SONGS (2016)
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Over a decade ago, singer-songwriter Philip Price scrawled the name “Winterpills” on the wall of The Bay State Hotel, a now-dead but fabled Northampton, Massachusetts watering hole and music venue. Initially, it was going to be the name for a dreamt-of electronica project, but, somewhere along the line, it blossomed into a critically acclaimed indie band with a deep catalog of elegant, dark chamber pop.
Now, the quintet gives us its seventh album, a provocative entry in its catalog, Love Songs (Signature Sounds), out March 18th. Recorded and co-produced with Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Lou Barlow, Speedy Ortiz), the album showcases an invigorated and raw Winterpills. This new release marks ten years as a band. To commemorate this career milestone, Winterpills will also reissue its self-titled debut on vinyl. Together, these releases bookend a freewheeling psych-folk-rock continuum.
“Without even trying, over time the canvas has just gotten bigger,” says Winterpills’ principle songwriter Philip Price. "Time stretched us.”
The Northampton, Massachusetts quintet are consummate masters of the slow burn; they’ve nurtured a singular aesthetic with lush and sometimes gritty instrumentation, emotive and literate lyrics, sublime vocal harmonies, and cinematically structured songs that stealthily pull you in and then destroy you. Winterpills has prompted favorable comparisons to Elliott Smith, Low, The Go-Betweens, Fairport Convention, Pernice Brothers and Big Star, among others. The five-piece group is singer/songwriter/guitarist Philip Price, singer/keyboardist Flora Reed, guitarist Dennis Crommett, bassist Max Germer, and drummer Dave Hower.
Winterpills formed as friends, musically comforting each other during one particularly miserable winter after a year of breakups and deaths. Price began performing as a solo artist in the vein of Elliott Smith and Leonard Cohen after his power pop band, The Maggies, disbanded after nine years. Initially, Winterpills was an outlet to combine his quieter, heartfelt songwriting with a richer array of synthetic textures. Winterpills took something of a left turn by becoming a full band that conjured the vigor and sophistication of power-pop and folk-rock with subtle electronica flourishes. As time has worn on, Winterpills has peeled away that ambience in favor of a powerful and graceful live band aesthetic.
There’s a circularity to the group’s newly reissued self-titled debut album from 2005, and its latest, Love Songs. Both albums have the feeling of euphoric artistic self-discovery. “We hadn’t recorded together in awhile, and we felt refreshed when we went in the studio this time.” Philip admits. Whereas 2005’s Winterpills is a raw rock album with delicate moments, 2016’s Love Songs is a much bigger sounding rock record played with swaggering musicality.
Love Songs is tightly thematic. "At first the thought of calling it Love Songs was intended as a whimsical nod to the other million albums of the same title," Price says, "but then casting that light on the existing songs made them jump into stark relief: they were all love songs after all, though arriving at that place through strange portals and unused back roads." The tracks are definitely not your standard missives of affection: within the 11-song album, Winterpills explores love of the idea of love, love of unrealized love, love of the dead, love of family secrets, love of the concept of eternal return, love of ideas, and love of celebrity.
Standouts in this prismatic survey include the single “Celia Johnson,” “Freeze Your Light,” and “He Grew A Wall.” The track “Celia Johnson” bursts forth with a scruffy Jeff Magnum-like elegance conjured from the contrast of skyward Byrds-like harmonies laid over propulsive drums and garage rock guitars. The track was inspired by Philip's fascination with the late English actress, Celia Johnson, (best known for the 1945 British romantic drama Brief Encounter).
Lone celestial harmony vocals open “Freeze Your Light,” reminding longtime fans of the power of Philip’s vocal interplay with co-writer, keyboardist, harmony soulmate, and wife, Flora Reed. The song majestically unfolds from a fragile intimacy as it gathers burly power with lumbering drums and dirty guitars. The chorus has a gospel purposefulness that feels cathartic and spiritual; the embedded and quixotic desire to freeze all our loves in photographs, pixels and 'cardboard boxes with broken handles' saturates the song.
“He Grew A Wall” is about a suicide that shook the local music scene. “I watched that loss confound us all,” Philip reveals of the song’s subject, “I woke up one day with most of the words in my head laid out for me.” The track features some of Philip’s most poetically poignant lyrics against a mournful descending guitar line: “So the wind told a lie/You were deceived by the sky/The sun refused your call/The moon denied it all/You grew a wall”.
The album’s emotional resonance and fresh energy comes from the environment it was created in. Philip produced and engineered three albums in a row for Winterpills in their home project studio; but Love Songs was recorded in a professional studio buzzing with music gear curiosities, setting the stage for intrepid sonic exploration, including a slightly out-of-tune vintage Vose & Sons upright piano used liberally on many of the albums tracks: Love Songs bids farewell with the early Elton John-esque “It Will All Come Back To You.” The song’s arrangement is richly emotive—it sweeps upward from plaintive piano and voice to vigorous full-band accompaniment with stacked vocal harmonies, noise guitar, and trumpet. Co-producer Justin Pizzoferrato forged a telepathic connection with the group where he could intuit their aspirations, while providing fresh perspectives from the many different genres he’s worked in.
It’s been an unexpected journey for Philip, chasing the ghost within that moniker he scribbled on a bar wall twelve years ago. But what stands out to him as the most meaningful part of the journey is the deep ties within the band. “We feel lucky we’re still good friends after all this time. And I’m in awe of what everyone in the band brings to this weird table we built,” he says. His most profound connection, though, is with Flora Reed, his wife, and creative ally. “We totally have all our eggs in one basket, and it’s been great. I highly recommend it. We do save a little money on hotel rooms.”
2. Wanderer White
3. Celia Johnson
4. Freeze Your Light
5. A New England Deluge
6, The Swimmers and The Drowned
7. He Grew A Wall
9. Bringing Down The Body Count
10. Diary, Reconstructed
11. It Will All Come Back To You
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Winterpills drop a single out of nowhere: "Colorblind" features an infectious wall-of-sound vocal hook, samples recorded into an iPhone in a DC parking lot, out-of-tune pianos colliding over a burned-out city, a fat R&B beat, all poured through the alchemy of producer Justin Pizzoferrato's overdrive brain. "Colorblind" mourns the whitewashing, the bleaching-out of the world, the flavorless dystopia envisioned by some. "They're taking you nowhere, ruby mine."
released August 17, 2017
Engineered and mixed by Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab, Easthampton, MA.Produced by Winterpills and Justin Pizzoferrato.
Mastered by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering, Chicago, IL.
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While their full band was busy raising kids and committed to various day jobs, Flora Reed and Philip Price of Winterpills decided it would be fun to quickly record some of their favorite cover songs while the tape rolled. But what began as a small casual project morphed into an orchestrated, introspective transformation of a few well-known songs and quite a lot of under-appreciated gems: songs by Sharon Van Etten, Buddy Holly, Lisa Germano, The Go-Betweens, XTC, Beck, the Beatles, and more get the treatment of filtering through the alchemy of Flora and Philip’s vocal & instrumental chemistry experiment. Almost archival in nature, Echolalia does not play like the standard covers album packed with well-known hits. It’s a treasure trove filled with beloved songs picked because Price and Reed felt that they were meant to transform them.
Price writes: “Aren’t all albums cover albums? Aren’t our musical daydreams overflowing with versions and interpretations and echoes of songs — others and our own — that have woven themselves into our brains? Songs misremembered, songs massaged or tortured through memory and association… For us, live shows where we play our own songs are sometimes, at least technically, a constant re-inventing of our own material while innately reflecting the influences of others.
Some nights I find myself singing one of my own songs in the voice of someone I’d been obsessively listening to for weeks, trying on new voices like a 1940’s character actor. Conversely, other times we weave our own voices into the voices of our musical heroes for the vicarious thrill of blending the living with the dead. It's a dialog without end and often no one noticing."
The criteria for this project were twofold: 1. Dig into the body of ingrained influences and find songs from any era that we connected with, and 2.Transform them in a way that reignited the songs for us personally- not simply a record of us performing it, not playing (much) from the ego. We had to do something that trumped the simple love of the song. There were so many songs and artists that we left off this list and it took some tinkering to realize that some songs are not really meant to by covered or transformed –by us. Simply because a song was great (and influential) was not enough to pass the Echolalia gauntlet; it had to be transformable; we had to be successful Dr. Frankensteins and re-animate, and not worry if it was a monster or not, or afraid of fire…”
Starting with their self-titled debut in 2005, Winterpills have built a vibrant career with their exquisite chamber-pop songs that The Washington Post called “densely packed but hugely evocative, tiny bombs of feeling and meaning… fiendishly melodic." From the group’s origins one cold winter in 2004 as a song circle for heartache, the band has truly blossomed, releasing three full-length albums — a self-titled effort in 2005, The Light Divides in 2007 and Central Chambers in 2008 — and the 2010 E.P. Tuxedo of Ashes, which The New York Times praised for “elegant arrangements” of “songs that stay haunted.” 2012’s All My Lovely Goners embraced the hushed vocal harmonies and graceful chamber-pop sound the group has made its trademark, while pushing the quintet into new sonic realms. MOJO magazine included the album in their 2012 top 10 Americana list.
1. One Day (Sharon Van Etten)
2. Time Of No Reply (Nick Drake)
3. From A Shell (Lisa Germano)
4. Open Your Eyes (Jules Shear)
5. Learning the Game (Buddy Holly)
6. We’re The Same (Matthew Sweet)
7. Bye Bye Pride (The Go-Betweens)
8. Museum of Flight (Damien Jurado)
9. Train Running Low on Soul Coal (XTC)
10. A World Away From This One (Mark Mulcahy)
11. The Wolf is on the Hill (Beck)
12. Cry Baby Cry (The Beatles)
ALL MY LOVELY GONERS (2012)
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The western Massachusetts band’s fifth release, their fifth on Signature Sounds, stretches well beyond Winterpills’ previous boundaries on thirteen new songs that are at once identifiable, yet broader. All My Lovely Goners embraces the hushed vocal harmonies and graceful chamber-pop sound the group has made its trademark, while pushing the quintet into new sonic realms. Together, singer/songwriter/guitarist Philip Price, singer/keyboardist Flora Reed, guitarist Dennis Crommett, bassist Brian Akey and drummer Dave Hower have essentially redefined the creative spirit of Winterpills.
It’s the album Winterpills has been working toward from the start. From the group’s origins one cold winter in 2004 as a song circle for heartache, the band has blossomed, releasing three full-length albums — a self-titled effort in 2005, The Light Divides in 2007 and Central Chambers in 2008 — and the 2010 EP Tuxedo of Ashes, which The New York Times praised for “elegant arrangements” of “songs that stay haunted.”
There are haunted songs on All My Lovely Goners, too, but in reflecting on the band’s previous work, Price felt that Winterpills had reached a watershed, and a rediscovery of sorts was needed.
Much of that rediscovery was philosophical: “There was a certain wordless pledge by the band to not be weighted down by the past,” says Price. That feeling played a vital role on the group’s first album and resurfaced on All My Lovely Goners as the freedom to take bigger chances, to do something un-self-consciously different. It manifests in the chiming guitars and shimmering solo on “Amazing Sky,” and the mournful meditation “The Sun Is Alone,” a last-minute addition to the album and one of two songs to feature lead vocals from Reed. (She learned the tune in 40 minutes and nailed her vocal in two takes). It’s there in the chugging power-pop chords and soaring vocal harmonies of “Rogue Highway,” and the noisy departure “January Rain,” which pairs dissonant bursts of guitar with busy, clattering drums, thick choral vocals and acoustic guitars shoved into distortion.
“I really feel like whether we knew it or not, we were all pushing ourselves here to make something exciting, emotional, fresh and rocking,” says Crommett, who helped shape the sound of All My Lovely Goners with his most adventurous guitar work yet — including playing lap steel for the first time on a Winterpills LP.
There was a performance component to the band’s rediscovery, too, as the musicians shed some of the loops and effects that had become part of the process on more recent albums, emphasizing instead the sound of five people making music together.
“We wanted this album to be more live-instrument-based, rather than effects-based,” Reed says. “The focus is on capturing our live playing.”
Written over the past two years and recorded at the Boomerang Ranch (Price and Reed’s project studio in Hadley, Mass.), Price says, “The songs were written slowly, arranged slowly, braised slowly in their own intentions, as mysterious as those were.” He continues, “the songs took shape around the idea that we are defined in many ways by the multiple wars we’ve all endured, the broken hearts, traumas and tragedies that shape our characters, even as they may recede farther into the past. As they fade from the front of our minds, they are ever-present reminders of how we became who we are.”
“From the opening salvo of the album, where a benediction and a warning is given from an open grave, to the closing shuffling love song to an elusive and cruel muse, every song is about the tenuous threads that hold us to the split second dream of life,” Price says. “It’s easy to reach into a recent death and find the vital song. It’s harder to live with it for many years and find another song. Those are the hard-earned ones.” And the album is full of them.
To all the lovely goners — the people we’ve loved, the people we miss, the people, Price says, “who stand in our backyard and are always looking through our windows” — this one’s for you.
1. We Turned Away
2. Amazing Sky
3. Small Bright Doses
4. Rogue Highway
5. Pretty Girls
6. January Rain
7. The Sun Is Alone
10. Dying Star
12. Sunspots (Ruins)
13. Feather Blue
TUXEDO OF ASHES (2010)
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Jon Pareles, The New York Times, Oct. 14. 2010: "Devastation grows almost cozy on “Tuxedo of Ashes” (Signature Sounds/Soft Alarm), a six-song EP that Winterpills recorded at home in Hadley, Mass. Philip Price’s cryptic, folky songs hint at floods, murder and war. “I lay down in the ash heap and penciled in our names/On the rosters of the fallen and the legends of the maimed,” he sings in the title song, with an ethereal descant from Flora Reed. Around Mr. Price’s gentle voice and the picking of his guitar or banjo, Winterpills gradually builds elegant arrangements steeped in 1960s folk-pop and rootsy rock, hinting at Simon and Garfunkel and Fairport Convention. While the gathered instruments offer some solace, the songs stay haunted."
This is the fourth release by Winterpills, and a 6 song EP of songs recorded entirely at home.
With an ambitious full–length album on the horizon and a surplus of songs, the New England indie- quintet Winterpills decided the time was ripe to make a home recording. Though the process was more relaxed and casual than a full-blown studio effort, the six songs on Tuxedo of Ashes (Winterpills’ 4th CD on Signature Sounds/Soft Alarm) are just as rich and intricately dynamic as any of their previousrecordings.
“I seemed to have accumulated a glut of what I thought of as my ‘Hey Jude’s -- 5-minute-plus songs with huge dramatic endings. This was one of the inspirations for the EP -- that and the idea of doing it all at home, up in the bedroom, on our own gear, with special guests sending in parts via email or whenever they could stroll through,” says the band’s songwriter Philip Price. “The EP is a sort of arranged marriage of the wordy epic and the modest haiku.”
The band also thinks of Tuxedo as a palette cleanser before the next project, already written and to be tackled over the coming winter months.
From the very start, Tuxedo of Ashes is vintage Winterpills, a band with a sound described by one critic as “... ghostly, shimmering music, beatific harmonies... The glistening melodies and subtle layering of vocals and guitar parts are deceptively soothing, hiding the implied catastrophe that seems to lurk in the heart.” (Harp).
The opening track, “Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?” is a strummed, murmured and mellotroned paean of love to four influential artists who died too soon over the past year: Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), Alex Chilton and Andy Hummell (both of Big Star): “The lithium stars will not shine tonight/They have wounded to guide to another world...”
The band then veers into the uncharted and vaguely trip-hop-and-cello feel of “Feed The Spider” a misanthropic, cyclic chant that ponders, among other things, how the tendrils of deathly oil spills might appear from outer space. Next is “Hallway (The Top of the Velvety Stairs)” - a dreamy echo of a song about a romantic encounter at a teenage party in an abandoned house. “The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder” is a love song to the personal politics of drinking, faithlessness, and faulty memory (with more lush cello provided by guest Melissa Nelson).
“A Magnet - To The Light!” is a hymn to the persistence of mourning, and sets the stage for the cathedral-sized closer “Tuxedo of Ashes,” which pulls out the alt-country stops and invites in a plethora of friend musicians to sing (including Grant-Lee Phillips, Erin McKeown, Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion), Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne), and José Ayerve (Spouse) and goes on an eight verse deep journey of regrets, the protagonist emerging gut-shot, weary, yet celebratory.
1. Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?
2. Feed The Spider
3. Hallway (The Top Of The Velvety Stairs)
4. The Ballad Of The Anxious Decoder
5. A Magnet - To The Light!
6. Tuxedo Of Ashes
GUESTS: Melissa Nelson, Matthew Loiacono, Henning Ohlenbusch, Lesa Bezo, Ana Price-Eckles, Lee Godleski, Grant-Lee Phillips, Mark Mulcahy, Erin McKeown, José Ayerve, Ella Longpre, Chris Collingwood.
CENTRAL CHAMBERS (2008)
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At the core of Central Chambers, their newest album and third overall, the Northampton, Mass. quintet maintains its signature chamber-indie ambience while exploring new grounds sonically and lyrically. In it, you'll hear production running the gamut from boombox lo-fi to crisp studio sonorousness; dense rockers balanced by quiet hymns; and an overall diversity in instruments and textures. All of this backs the wandering words of songwriter Philip Price, and here we can see him condensing his meditative lyrical approach into mantras contemplating the frailty of humanity.
This heightens the subjects he studies, themes of frailty and humanity and the heart. He says the album's title, Central Chambers, was initially chosen as a lark, a nod to the band's Northampton rehearsal space. But as the writing/recording process was under way, Price discovered he had a heart condition called an aortic aneurysm; a weakness in the aorta that can lead to hemorrhaging or quick death if left untreated.
With mortality on his mind moreso than ever, the title came to represent for him the chambers of the heart, and themes of the heart crept into the songs he wrote; the life force of blue veins running through everything ("Secret Blue Thread"), an old man collapsing of a heart attack after losing his farm ("Gentleman Farmer"), the aging heart heard through the skin of sleep of an old romantic ("Weary Heart"). "The actual, physical heart goes through many changes and challenges," Price says. But Central Chambers reflects the emotional heart as well. "To me, it also speaks to a place where judgment is dispersed, where lovers meet, where people live - and hide - and where secrets are kept."
These concepts are conveyed with more presence and immediacy than we've heard from Winterpills - notice the forcefulness of "We'll Bring You Down," or the elegance of "Take Away The Words." Certainly, we can still pick up on their roots: those Elliott Smith moments remain, along with newer directions invoking Bonnie "Prince" Billie, The Velvet Underground or The Arcade Fire. But you'll find these influences only if you're listening specifically for them.
Taken as a whole, though, the things you'll hear here - the pleading lyrics, the dreamy pop, the harmonized vocal exchanges and evocative playing - comprise a distinctive sound, crafted over the course of three albums and very much owned by the band playing it. On Central Chambers, Winterpills' biggest influence is none other than Winterpills itself, a strongly established voice that will warm your heart one moment only to sting it the next.
released October 14, 2008
THE LIGHT DIVIDES (2007)
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When Winterpills released their debut album in the fall of 2005, fans and critics alike scrambled to define what made it one of most significant musical discoveries of the year. Critics met the album with descriptions like "Heavy with moments of sheer beauty," "exquisite vocals," "deeply moving & heartrending," and "as textured as the best indie rock around." Fans made Winterpills a most requested band on radio stations across the country. A feature on NPR's Weekend Edition followed along with performances on syndicated radio shows World Café, Mountain Stage and others.
Now, The Light Divides ups the ante on Winterpills' shimmering, resonant, heartbroken pop glory. "These songs, as musically sophisticated and delicate as any of songwriter Philip Price's career, and given otherwordly treatment by band members Flora Reed, Dave Hower, Dennis Crommett, Brian Akey and José Ayerve nevertheless feel essential, even familiar, like old friends. The hooks and harmonies have been burnished so that they glow from within -- it's as if Winterpills has brought to light the songs you were already humming to yourself, but didn't know it."
-- Jonathan Lethem
released February 27, 2007
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Not unlike Low or Stars, Northampton, MA-based coed indie rockers Winterpills go down easy on this ten-song debut. From the outset, the warm allure of "A Benediction" counts frontman Philip Price as an Elliott Smith devotee, but the group sounds best when Price gets vocal accompaniment from Flora Reed, who gives the percolating, acoustic pop of "Laughing" and the breathy, stripped-down "Cranky" harmonic life. The hard-working "Threshing Machine" and the muted glimmer of "Want the Want" personify the band's depth, leaving this eponymous offering a prescription for indie fans looking to fill a void. - AllMusic