[sic] Magazine

The Declining Winter – Belmont Slope

It’s been three years since The Declining Winter last graced us with an album (Home For Lost Souls – see review here). After many listens, I can confirm that this is soul music for 2018 – not as in the ‘soul music’ of, say, Otis Redding or Sam Cooke, but more ‘music from the soul’. It’s heartfelt, sincere music that is stripped bare. The album itself commences with a nice continuation of where Lost Souls left off. In some ways, however, the album marks a huge departure, but more on that later. There are layered, stripped-to-the-core acoustic guitars, restrained vocals, minimal accompaniment and a nice set of riff-based songs in a pastoral lo-fi style.

For those of you already familiar with The Declining Winter, you’ll know that the band was formed from the ashes of Leeds-based Hood. In addition, the first three tracks will come as no real surprise to you; the melancholic sound of the hills in the distance of the M62 chime steadily as the songs build in the foreground. Think Epic45, My Autumn Empire, and The Go-Betweens. This is music that is unlikely to give your neighbours sufficient reason to complain about the volume; if anything, it’s late-at-night headphone listening. ‘Near Garden’ has the hallmarks of a classic Declining Winter track, which transports me back to when I first heard the band shortly after ‘Haunt The Upper Hallways’ was released. Once we reach title track ‘Belmont Slope’, the album suddenly shifts down a gear or two and sounds almost ghostly; there’s an eerie piano and layered electronics; it’s a beautiful instrumental track. Next up, ‘Twilight Rating’ and I’m simply unprepared for this – it feels like I’ve left the Peel Stage at Glastonbury Festival and somehow found myself wandering dizzily around the Dance Stage as Leftfield have just left the stage. To say the track comes as somewhat of a surprise is an understatement; it’s a 4AM track in a basement bar, a track for when you’re sad – but also a track for when you’re deliriously happy. It really is both sides of the same coin.

Fortunately, there’s more of the same vibe later on – with ‘Still Harbour Hope’ – which is a glorious eight minute slice of chill-out music. This track is constructed around a simple electronic loop with minimal instrumentation; it adheres well to the ‘less is more’ rule – and the snare which kicks in around halfway through really elevates the track.

It’s really interesting hearing these different ideas living next door to each other on the same album; the risk for the band is that lovers of pastoral post-rock music mightn’t like the chill-out vibes and vice-versa, but in truthfulness they work together and gel magnificently. I’d be intrigued to discover what The Declining Winter might conjure up if they were to release an album of two distinct sides (‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ perhaps?); one side containing more ‘typical’ music and one of completely experimental tracks, but maybe that’s for another time. Right now, I’m loving ‘Break The Elder’ for its minor chord riffs, layered vocals and lyrics about being knee-deep in clouds. I’m also loving ‘I Will Never Lose Your Heart’ for its heart-on-its-sleeve sadness; and I’m loving ‘Later And Later Indeed’ which, to me, describes the period of late summer, just before the evenings start drawing in and it gets that bit cooler of an evening.

So, ‘Belmont Slope’ is perhaps a sideways shift from previous albums – and I really like that The Declining Winter are taking chances with their sound, trying out new ideas and being more experimental. There’s also much to embrace in terms of their approach to producing laid back music and embracing a culture of never piling on the instrumentation, something which many a band has been guilty of when they’re in a recording studio. In summary, a lovely album.

‘Belmont Slope’ is released on 24th August 2018 and is available on limited-edition mustard vinyl, black vinyl, CD and download. It is available directly from the record label here.