East Coast Music Association Factor Recording of the Year Nominees (number: 2011 winner)
When Juno Award-winning Canadian quintet Wintersleep's third album, 2007's Welcome to the Night Sky, collected a considerable quota of critical plaudits - "on a par with Band of Horses," read one review - it seemed their star was set for commercial ascendance. But it hasn't quite happened for them in the same way as fellow countrymen Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, two groups to have taken praise in the press and turned it into mainstream-appeal gold. When they last visited London, it wasn't an Academy for this lot - instead, they played a whiskey bar (albeit a very popular one).
But stasis on a level of success measured by sales, records and tickets, hasn't stalled the band's creativity: fourth long-player New Inheritors takes the refined indie template of its predecessor and introduces additional depth and tonal detail. Strings are stirred from slumber on opener Experience the Jewel, wrapping themselves around tumbling percussion and lyrics demanding sing-along recognition - "It's bigger than you / If you ever make it through / What would you do?" - without coming across like a tacked-on post-production extra. As they swell, so do battling guitars; complementary constituents are the pieces at play, nothing sounding out of place.
The driving dynamics of Encyclopaedia are indicative of another side to Wintersleep: here, they're a close-enough cousin to acts like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Mission of Burma, delivering a racket that's taut of rhythm but raucous of execution. Black Camera is a similar number, vocalist Paul Murphy drawling his lyrics in a fashion not a thousand stylistic miles away from Thurston Moore before switching pace as if a snaking electrical cable has made contact with steel-toe-capped boots. This ability to alternate their expression(s) of energy characterises a record that moves from snappy punk-infused offerings to intricate arrangements that reward repeated listens with textural treasures.
What New Inheritors isn't, though, is a record set to have those familiar with its makers reassessing previous opinions on Wintersleep. Murphy occasionally seems a thorn in the side of efforts to appreciate the band's widescreen bombast, as his vocals can be as much an acquired taste as Wolf Parade's Spencer Krug; and the music, while supremely accomplished, isn't tearing up any long-established rule books. But if Welcome to the Night Sky did it for you, this will prolong the love affair with a resolute classiness.