Consummate masters of the slow burn, Winterpills has nurtured a singular aesthetic with lush and sometimes gritty instrumentation, emotive and literate lyrics, sublime vocal harmonies, and cinematically structured songs. Their newest full-length, Love Songs (their seventh on Signature Sounds), was released in March and showcases a more raw, sonically heavier side of the band. Recorded with producer/engineer wunderkind Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr, The Pixies, And The Kids, Parquet Courts) over the course of a year, the band found new ways to make their already symphonic, fragile-but-dangerous approach even bigger. Paste Magazine says Love Songs is "essential Winterpills, situated at the intersection of longing and resignation"; Pop Matters says Love Songs "... stands out among the throngs of indie rock albums released this year."
From the group’s origins one cold winter in 2004 as a song circle for heartache, the band has truly blossomed, releasing their eponymous debut in 2005; The Light Divides in 2007, Central Chambers in 2008, and the 2010 E.P. Tuxedo of Ashes, which The New York Times’ Jon Pareles praised for “elegant arrangements” of “songs that stay haunted.” 2012’s All My Lovely Goners pushed the quintet into more experimental sonic realms; MOJO included the album in their 2012 top 10 Americana list. In October, 2014, Winterpills released the archival cover's project Echolalia, a meticulously curated survey of influences including songs by Sharon Van Etten, Nick Drake, XTC, Lisa Germano, Lennon/McCartney, the Go-Betweens and many more.
That Joel Thibodeau’s slender, winsome voice is at once so comforting and so unsettling might be the greatest of his many strengths. Reed-thin but sturdy, youthful but somehow ageless, its deep benevolence is also slightly eerie, and the way he gently walks the line between intense feeling and contemplative remove lets him sing from a timeless place where he evokes the beauty of vanished people and places, sweetness too profound for words, loss too great for tears.
Like Nico’s, Jimmy Scott’s, or Phil Elverum’s, Joel’s is a voice that demands its own sonic and lyrical world, and with Island Intervals, his third record as Death Vessel (and second for Sub Pop), we’re treated to the sound of him finding a rich and strange new home among new friends in Iceland who probably saw him as a long-lost relative. Joel’s an inveterate and intuitive wanderer; when I met him years ago, he’d just spent a few months traveling the United States on Greyhound buses, sometimes sleeping rough, and making a record from found moments. I remember he had an otherworldly quality about him that I couldn’t quite name, like he’d just blown in on the wind.
Island Intervals springs from a more recent journey. For his first album since 2008’s acclaimed Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us, Joel traveled to Reykjavík on an invitation from Sigur Rós singer Jónsi and producer Alex Somers, where they spent three months together conjuring an album that’s both a song cycle and a window into a mysterious and singular landscape. From the creaking bellows of the pump organ that opens the astonishing, hymn-like “Ejecta,” to the fragmented voices that sway and swirl through the closing “Loom,” Island Intervals wraps Joel’s voice and furtive guitar in sounds that evoke not so much a band playing as elemental forces of earth and water; multi-instrumentalist Pete Donnelly (The Figgs, NRBQ) along with percussionists Samuli Kosminen (Mum) and Thorvaldur “Doddi” Thorvaldsson assist Somers in creating a rich and multi-layered world that sounds, at times, like a well-tuned forest sighing and bending in a gale, or the deep cracks and booms of a glacier calving its way to the sea.