The first couple of seconds of The Great Detachment might have you think you somehow wrongfully managed to play My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything. The same dry snare beats in a fast tempo that open the “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” can be found here on “Amerika” although they feel fuller and livelier. Following immediately come screeching guitars that only stop for Paul Murphy to sing in the most anthemic way “Lover don’t be sad/think of the time we have”. As far as opening an album goes, Wintersleep found near perfection. The rest of the song is as jam packed with energy, each snare hit filling all the space in the song left by the pulsating guitar chords that make up the general progression of the song. It’s a return to the sound they had in their earlier records, and one that shows a lot of promise.
The Great Detachement is the first Wintersleep album in four years, which strays away for the record-tour two year cycle most bands are on nowadays. What they came up with is not a concept album, but a central theme of various types of detachments: physical, moral, mental or emotional. They run throughout the lyrics of the songs in mostly authentic and original ways, save for the latter half of the record. These detachments, though subtle, are the driving force behind the lyrics. The title of the album itself is taken from a lyric of the song “Spirit”, although not at the halfway point of the album, it still serves as s division where the album takes a more upbeat and pop approach to the songwriting that beforehand was punctuated with either calmer arrangements like on “Shadowless” or the experimental chaoticism of “Santa Fe”, a song that begins with tremolo guitars leading into verses where vocals full of effects perfectly blend into a danceable clean vocal chorus. While on paper it might not make much sense, these techniques make for one of the best cuts on this album.
But just as the songwriting becomes more upbeat, the quality begins to dip a little bit as the songs lose some of the identity and charisma found in the earlier tracks on the album. Although there are some bright spots there such as the incredibly catchy chorus of “Freaking Out”, other moments on the latter end of this album feel uneventful and unnecessarily fast-paced, especially given how well the band previously showcased their ability to manage slower-paced tracks. “Love Lies” begins with a beautiful wavy synthesizer but quickly bursts out into straightforward alt-rock. Sonically, it shows a weird disconnect from what came before it; lyrically, it leaves something to be desired.
But the main example of front loading in this album is clearest when looking at the opener and closer. While “Amerika” makes you want to listen to it compulsively, the acoustic guitar in “Who Are You” is a forgettable deflation of a closer. Some albums have perfect closers, songs whose sheer standing power would make any track following feel tacked on and unnecessary. “Who Are You” is not that song, begging for a stronger closer to either follow or replace it. Listening to The Great Detachment in loop, the transition from “Who You Are” into “Amerika” is the epitome of disjointed, as if two separate bands created these entirely dissimilar tracks.
The Great Detachment is a proof of concept for the dangers of running out of steam. It’s an album from an undeservedly underrated band that majorly faults in the second half, as the band appears to run out of ideas. The best tracks here are the ones with a calmer, more ballad-like register or those that feel like Wintersleep is flexing their creative possibilities. It’s an album that leaves you excited to see what they can bring in their next release and what this band can do if they take the chance to venture out of songwriting structure norms and explore to the full extent all of the ideas that they bring. Is The Great Detachment great? No. But it points toward something that may be.
– Tiago M.