Review of Wintermute's album 'Robot Works' released through Big Scary Monsters.
There are many strategies for opening an album. Some opt for a meandering instrumental passage; swirling synths and ambient guitars building slowly towards the first verse. Some prefer the bombast of a grand cinematic entrance. And of course, there are the million other paths inbetween. Wintermute pick one less travelled. 'Robot Works' begins with no announcement, making you feel as if you've arrived at a conversation that is already in full flow. The approach suits perfectly, setting the scene for plenty of other twists and turns and unexpected stops and starts throughout the record. It also feels like a nicely assured way of opening a debut album. No apologies. Here we are. This is our trade.
But Wintermute have every right to feel self-assured. Having cut their bones playing thrilling shows in a Leeds scene which has plenty of darlings to choose from, the boys' dedication to their craft has earned them the admiration and support of one of the country's most fertile spots for new music. The challenge with 'Robot Works', therefore, was to produce something that gets to the essence of Wintermute and can fight their corner on a bigger platform. On that basis, the record is a huge success. Dave and Dan's guitars weave in and out of each other, spoiling the listener with a huge choice of hooks and melodic phrases for each song. The jerky, pentatonic guitar lines evoke Television, but there is a greater urgency and nervousness, provided by Dan's emotionally bare yelps and the dynamic agitation of the songwriting. At the Drive-in need a mention here. They're obviously an influence, but Wintermute avoid by a wide margin that frequent pitfall of relying on an influence to define their own sound too obviously.
I have already earmarked 'Ask a Stupid Question' as one of my singles of the year. (Presumably it will, or already has been, a single.) As close to pop-perfection as this genre gets, the song confidently blends a wealth of ideas into an arc of instant hooks and a sophisticated strong structure that rewards a closer listen with recurring themes and leitmotifs. The end of 'I Abandoned My Boy' gives us a very pretty piano interlude that restates a chord progression from 'Shark vs Eboat'. This might work so well because it sits in isolation among a fully loaded guitar/bass/drum attack that barely relents elsewhere, but I'd like to see this sort of texture more in Wintermute as it underlines just how much songwriting ability the band has.