With ‘I Am Not The Crow’ in 2012, windings plumbed some thematically downbeat depths but managed to balance the murk and misanthropy with shimmering counterweights of spacey keys, drum tracks both deft and mammoth, and a feast of guitar sparring – not least the ever-evolving six-string explorations of frontman Steve Ryan. It was one of the year’s finest records, but aside from a split album with Land Lovers in 2014, things have been largely quiet on the recorded front from the Limerick quintet.
Recorded over three days in August of last year, the band’s fourth album seems an unhurried venture. Windings have nothing to prove to anyone – their raison d’être, at this point in their career, is to make their best attempt at capturing the sound of a band giving it their all onstage and getting the result to people’s ears. Despite the lengthy gap between albums, it’s a relief to hear that Ryan’s knack for masking shadow with light has remained intact, and snippets of violent imagery – be they oppressive or comedic – consistently feed into the overarching theme of trauma of the body and mind.
Ambivalence Blues is an auspicious start: “I think I’m starting to dislike this place…”, an Orwellian image of a boot to the face, then ultimately, the lyric that may well come to be one that Ryan will have people congratulating him on for years to come – “And when it comes to meeting new friends/ Try not to think of it as making up numbers for your funeral.” All this, buoyed on trilling high tones, wavering over a two-note motif with a steady march of ascendance at the instrumental coda. A jarring shouted intro about a botched attempt to fuck a bottle at Glen Hansard’s head suddenly follows with Boring, a cathartic punk rout from the man once known as Steveamanakick.
I’m Alarmed then hits the high notes, as well as a high point in the album. It glides along with a spacey electro-glam élan, hopping into double-time at the midway point before relaxing back into the bookend groove. Here especially, those shimmering synth notes of Patrick O’Brien seem more enmeshed with the guitars than previously evident on the band’s recordings. Where ‘I Am Not The Crow’ demonstrated a group locked into one another’s playing, ‘Be Honest And Fear Not’ is the same unit only now more at ease, letting the tracks open up to expand and contract with a more assured hand. It’s Windings at a place where the cogs in the machine just slip into place effortlessly – fluid and unified.
The Passing Of Sega is the album at its most playful – nostalgic 8-bit sonic shenanigans via synth and string – whereas Stray Dogs and You’re Dead take things down a much darker alley (“The stray dogs of my mortality tear at my ankles once again”). Nestled between the two, A Better Place is sunnier in sonic disposition, chiming into life like the intro to a girl group love-in. As the record winds down, it’s almost heartening to see Ryan’s ruminations on pain, anger and morbidity come to a close with Late Praise; still lamenting time lost, yet ultimately a man contentedly living in the present and looking to the future.
The album’s distinctly marked tracks puts paid to any notions that ‘Be Honest And Fear Not’ is following any kind of pattern, and each ensuing song inhabits its own space in the mix. On this outing Windings are stretching out, covering more ground than ‘I Am Not The Crow’s guitar-wrangling and powerhousing – as with that album, don’t be at all surprised to see this one coming up on the ‘Best Of ‘16’ lists.