For those of us who have always pondered the elusive sonic conclusion of Bach living to hear the Raincoats, Vancouver's the Winks are undoubtedly here to remove that primordial of primordial life mysteries. The duo, Todd Macdonald and Tyr Jami, is reworking pop music in ways that prove the initial rules were just an illusion anyway. On paper, taking the already beautiful mandolin and cello and augmenting their sound with some simple programming and baritone saxophone to keep the bottom of the mix strong is alone worthy of straight out adulation for its ace outside the box thinking. But, on Slippers and Parasol, the Winks show they're not content to sit on an already striking concept – they prove they've mastered that concept.
"Ice Shield"'s stalking cello line contrasted immediately with dramatic vocals and thunderous percussion reveal the dynamics that never let the unique instrumentation stand on its own. Instead, the Winks exploit their parochial tools for all they're worth. Passionate, intense, and used for its full range, especially the cello provides the unifying link throughout 14 very different tracks. "Beth" and "Toothbrush" wind through cabaret-style narratives with the
loudest chords ever heard from a mandolin, while the whispy "Crime Scene" accents the smooth, homegrown undercurrent the instruments were originally used to create by the wandering storytellers of centuries long past, as they say. The contrast provides music that is variedly playful, and, as you might have
guessed, just a little quirky.
Clever word play also adds to the admittedly geeky fun through tongue twisting alliteration ("Brial and the buffle blanket brandish braking buckle brazen"), and homegrown imagery as varied as the music's moods ("Pins and a ceiling/ Hang myself with yarn.") Cryptic as they may be, the lines still appear more whimsical than over thought. At times, though, electronic-laced songs like "The Film" sway a bit away from the album's cohesion, providing more lull than song.
But when sticking to the dynamic songs churned by their organic instruments, it's apparent how gifted the Winks are at turning their small chamber guild into the density that On "Snakes!," the album's single poised for number one, dueling male-female vocals are charmingly off-kilter both in his yelp and her wide-eyed mumble. But then, a sax solo at the song's midpoint is pure soul. Such a palette of odd sounds may seem a bit arty. Despite their quirks, though, the Winks are only arty in their simultaneous naiveté and brilliance.
1. Paper Doll Prelude
2. Ice Shields
4. Crime Scene
5. The Film
6. Toothbrush Tones
7. Animal Instrumental
9. The Dogs
12. Tiny Towers
13. Like a Ladder