Winter Villains are the Cardiff-based duo Josef Prygodzicz and Faye Gibson. Described as being an experimental chamber pop-band, they could also be said to inhabit that relatively uncharted space where indie-pop meets post-rock. Imagine the pastoral psychedelic folk of the much-missed Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci meeting Virginia Astley and combined with the gentler moments of Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Mogwai and you start to get an idea of where this act stand, musically speaking.
Following on from their debut album, the rather fantastic February (released in 2013), the band toured and played sympathetic festivals in the form of Green Man and the Hay Festival. Now they unleash their new album, which builds perfectly upon the promise of that debut.
The second track on this album ‘Empire‘, (and the first single to be released from it) is a perfect introduction to the Winter Villains sound. Lead by the boy/girl vocals that characterise much of their music, it’s a song that is deceptively simple on first hearing, and yet ultimately reveals itself to be utterly heartbreaking. Repeated plays reveal the different layers within, like peeling a sonic onion. It is worth the price of admission alone here. It’s followed by the equally beautiful ‘Hunters’ which is in waltz-time, still something that is comparatively rare in pop music.
And yet Prygodzicz and Gibson are also willing to experiment with other sounds. Particularly effective is the ambient-meets-pastoral sound on ‘We Lost Our Children To The Depths Of The Forest‘, and the title track. Not for them the idea of stretching one idea over the course of the album. What is so particularly impressive is how it is both a song-based album, and yet it comes together to make a coherent whole. And in these days of cherry-picking songs when downloading or streaming, it’s utterly important to have albums which make the case for the album as a whole package. Of course it certainly helps when it can be said that there is not a duff track on the album, as each successive play reveals.
As with labelmates Trwbador, there’s a sense of wonder at the sheer beauty, creativity and originality that’s going on here. While for many the notion of ‘independent’ music has been played out, coming to be characterised by simply meaning guitar rock, this is music that thinks outside the box and is all the better for it. It may not appeal to those who like their music to simply be the audio equivalent of meat and two veg, but for those willing to try something a little different, cast an ear this way.
Once There Were Sparks, Now There Are Ashes is out now on Owlet Music