[sic] Magazine

The Declining Winter – Home For Lost Souls

Dear readers, there are some reviews which are incredibly difficult to write – not because the album is ‘difficult’ or the music doesn’t quite gel – but quite the opposite in fact, because you find yourself so drawn into the music that it’s practically impossible to write down your thoughts and feelings at the same time as listening to it. You lay down your pencil and simply absorb the songs.

Some of you may know Richard Adams‘s work under the name of his ‘main’ band, Hood, based in Leeds. The Declining Winter is, in fact, a side-project which was formed in 2007. I became aware of The Declining Winter around a couple of years later when the band released a 7” single entitled Haunt The Upper Hallways– which intriguingly also included a 10-track bonus CD – in other words, a single containing a free album (which I think is a first).

As an aside, a book was published a few years ago called 31 Songs by Nick Hornby (the author of the brilliant High Fidelity which I won’t go into the details of here as I’ll otherwise be rambling for ages – suffice to say that it’s a fabulous book, much better than the film, and it would just about describe most of us who class ourselves as ‘record collectors’. There are also some genuinely ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments in there). Anyway… 31 Songs could easily have told the stories behind the songs, how they came to be written, where they were recorded etc. – and all of that would no doubt have been a fulfilling read – but that’s not what the book’s about! No…!! Instead, it details events which happened in the author’s life either because of a song, when a song became important in a relationship or simply when a song simply stops you in your tracks. Sure, we’ve all had plenty of moments which tick pretty much all of those boxes.

So, in one chapter the author starts off by mentioning that he’s not a big Bob Dylan fan. He’s got Blonde on Blonde and a couple of other Dylan ‘biggies’, of course. Oh, and he asked for a boxset for his birthday on one occasion, so he’s ended up with two or three boxsets. And as he casually checks his CD shelf, there’s, like, 20+ Dylan discs there. And that’s how it begins…

I’m telling you all this because that’s how it began for me with The Declining Winter. I recall first hearing them around the same time as a Shropshire-based band called epic45 (a brilliant band but with one of those names that unfortunately results in thousands of ‘new matches’ in emails from eBay; Unfortunately, however, none of the results are usually from the band Epic45 but are generally 7” singles from the 1970s from artists on the Epic record label – generally Abba, Wild Cherry and Southside Johnny. Maybe Chvrches had a point when they chose their name, haha). Anyway, my order for Haunt The Upper Hallways duly arrived in 2009 and from the moment I stoked up the CD player I felt literally paralysed from start to finish. It’s taken me a long time to get to my point – but here it is – I also feel this way about Home For Lost Souls. Yes, it’s that good.

‘Melancholic’, ‘Pastoral’, ‘Reminiscent’. All these words could be used to describe the songs herein, 14 in total. Adams chooses to keep the music relatively simple and let the songs speak for themselves. As a result, percussion is basic and drums tend to be held back in the mix. Emotions, on the other hand, are turned up to ‘max’. There’s an overall regressive feel to the music, as if Adams is laying certain ghosts to rest. Tracks can sometimes sound like ‘extended ideas’ or possibly even ‘jams’, but believe me when I say that’s not a bad thing – I mean, who cares when songs sound this good? Mid-set tracks ‘When Things Mattered’ and ‘Fog Forming’ are good examples of this.

Title track ‘Home For Lost Souls’ is such a killer track. When that second guitar joins in 30 seconds into the song, you’re simply drawn under its spell. Similarly, ‘Around The Winding Roads And Hills’ buzzes with its layers of guitars and vocals. There are moments of sadness, such as during ‘The Wild Girl Laughed’. It’s such a simple tune and works so well because Adams chooses not to litter the mix with drums, synths and layers of whatever else. Instead, the song retains a delicate, intricate charm. Many musicians fall into the trap of adding layers of unnecessary instrumentation because it’s too easy to fall into that trap – a studio is like a candy store for some, an artist’s easel for others. What Adams does is take simple ideas and beautifully extrapolates them such that the initial magic of each track is retained. ‘The Right True End’ mirrors this thought particularly well – it’s like a scrapbook of memories about somebody special.

While 2015 has so far generated a number of great releases, this album really does stand out as being truly special. Note that if you want a copy of the physical release (vinyl only), you’ll need to act quickly as it’s highly limited – copies via The Declining Winter’s website have already sold out, however a small number are currently available elsewhere if you’re quick (while stocks last).

Official webpage