The latest album from Oklahoma City rock band, Winter Circle, almost didn't happen. As the duo received more and more attention, began to tour, and made the transition to making music full time, lead singer, Kevin Dawson, was diagnosed with bone disease that causes once-healthy joints and bones to seize up and die. A charity enabled Dawson to have two complete hip replacements and he and, guitarist/keyboardist, Andy Hale to write music and work through what their future held.
My immediate reaction to the album Cloud Calls to Ground was noting a feeling of hopefulness throughout the songs. While they are born out of loss, they also point to growth and learning. Even the music is decidedly upbeat - more major chord than minor. At times I was reminded of Jimmy Eat World, at other times of Angels & Airwaves, and even reminded of Lovedrug in specific moments and transitions.
"Where You Are" felt like early 90's acoustic rock mixed with the energy of early 00's emo and indie. Melodies in a lot of the songs are characterized by soaring vocals that were everywhere when the band began in 2006. Those vocals are especially present on "Raining Angels,” a song that couples overdriven guitars perfectly with a string arrangement. The opening track "Lights Out" is the perfect introduction to the rest of the album. It's an energetic track that does a good job of representing the rest of the album. This song is great, but it does feel a bit derivative of bands like Switchfoot. Even the vocals remind me of them. "Kill Beauty" might make me seem a bit crazy for thinking the album feels mostly upbeat just because of the intro. The guitar chords are almost atonal and deliberately devoid of melody until the song opens up into a huge chorus.
Almost out-of-tune guitars kick off the title track to great effect. In the chorus, the vocals are almost lost in the mix. Rather than feeling like a bad mixing decision, it sounds like they sought to integrate the vocals deeply into the song, making them sound more like an instrument within the recording than the focus. "Porcelain" is a wonder of dynamic range. A very quiet verse leads into a chorus that's as big as the sky. The album closes with it's most sedate track "Push the Slaves Out the Door.” It's a primarily acoustic song with limited percussion and a truly beautiful string arrangement. My only complaint about the song is that it ends too abruptly. I don't want it to end.
Though Cloud Calls to Ground was born out of personal trial and transition that happened right as the band began to take off, it absolutely feels more hopeful than hopeless. While their sound tends toward being too derivative at times, the strength of their songs and the sincerity with which they were written and recorded makes all of that irrelevant. It's still a great record.
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