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Windsor For The Derby - Giving Up The Ghost

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Artist: Windsor For The Derby

Album: Giving Up The Ghost

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Aug. 22, 2005

With a name like Giving Up The Ghost, you might expect this album to be an exercise in fatalism. After all, Windsor For The Derby has been around for over a decade; for most of that time principal members Jason McNeely and Dan Matz have been based in different corners of the country (the former in Austin TX, the latter in different parts of New York state), and they’ve filled out the band with a long line of part-timers. But they’re far from shuffling off this mortal coil.

About a year ago McNeely joined Matz in Philadelphia, and they settled on a relatively stable line-up with returning bass/keyboardist Anna Neighbor and drummer Gianmarco Cilli (since replaced by Charlie Hall). The effect on the music is a subtle, yet palpable solidification. They’ve melded their early atmospheric excursions and the acoustic, song-based approach of The Emotional Rescue LP with the bold, '80s-tinged beats and intuitive guitar interplay that made last year’s We Fight Til Death so great. And like a batch of chili that’s better after a couple days in the pot, they’ve given these elements time to stew together; this is the first record that the band has recorded at a leisurely pace at home, rather than in a studio on a watch-tapping schedule.

The result is diverse yet coherent, and possessed of enough rhythmic wallop to dispel any titular phantoms. The brief, brisk opening instrumental, “Dirge For A Pack Of Lies,” uses harmonium and hand percussion to establish a caffeinated middle-eastern vibe that flows with paradoxical ease into the new wave-ish keyboard jam “Empathy For People Unknown.” Here and elsewhere, McNeely and Matz use an ear-grabbing guitar lick to resolve the tension between simple, catchy melodies and brooding lyrics. Next up are a couple songs with thick synth textures and bold drumming that bring to mind early New Order, but just as you’re ready to try and zip up your Members Only jacket, they switch up with “The Front,” an eerie, guitar-dominated instrumental. On side two, the changes come quicker and sharper, yet they feel as inevitable as the swings of a pendulum. “The Light Is On” is light and frothy, a tonic before the shuddering rave-up “Gathering.” Far from snuffing out, Windsor For The Derby sounds like a band with a new lease on life.

By Bill Meyer

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