Friday, October 11, 2013

Artist of the Day: Wintersleep

What happens when a city is both small and fairly isolated, but filled with college kids eager to find live music? Well, first of all its music fans have to cope with the fact that few of their favourite bands are ever going to play there. Secondly, it has to make its own music scene. Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city on the coast of the Atlantic, has done exactly that. After its alternative scene petered out after a peak in the early '90s, during which the city quietly earned the nickname “Canada's Seattle” (I swear), the college town struggled to find worthwhile new acts, especially as the same ones played there over and over again. However, thankfully in the music vacuum, an excellent band called Wintersleep have lived up to bands like Sloan, and reinvigorated the indie scene in the city.

Wintersleep play very conventional indie rock, a fact which may cause some to dismiss them unfairly. They have put out a few radio hits (none of which any Americans would have ever heard, but let's be realistic), featured on TV, and remain a fairly major live attraction in Halifax 12 years into their career. Their strongest album, 2007's Welcome to the Night Sky was both emotional and fairly heavy, like a more refined Japandroids. Stressing atmosphere over crushing chords (but never hesitating to use both), songs like "Archaeologist" and "Astronaut" brought the band widespread acclaim from indie publications outside the city. The band won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) for best new artist, despite the fact that they had already released two albums and existed for 12 years. Welcome to the Night Sky told stories, giving the album a folky lyrical style underneath the classic guitar-rock. Wintersleep also had their breakthrough hit in the form of "Weighty Ghost," a radio-ready single recognized today even by kids who hate indie-rock. Their concerts across the country became more frequent and popular, and for the first time this little band who had recorded their first albums in the cold, remote town of Yarmouth was exposed to a national crowd.

While neither of their next two albums inspired similar reactions critically or publicly, they remain in the Hey Rosetta!/Weakerthans class of Canadian touring acts. Notorious for playing free concerts in Halifax at opportune times — their 2011 Canada Day concert remaining one of the best concerts in the city's history — Wintersleep have never forgotten their roots. On record they've never taken too many chances, but that reliability makes each of their shows a treat. Welcome to the Night Sky remains an essential piece of Canadian indie-rock, up there with the Rural Alberta Advantage's Hometowns and the Weakerthan's Reconstruction Site. More importantly, an indie scene devoid of outside help has been re-energized, and thank goodness for that.

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