ALBUM REVIEW: Sam Willis – Winterval

sam willis winterval

Written for DIY

The days are getting shorter, the Christmas lights are going up, and it’s getting to the point that wearing Bermuda shorts isn’t just socially unacceptable, it’s downright dangerous. Winter is slowly crawling itself back into life, but that doesn’t mean everything has to become all down-tempo and monochrome – far from it, as Sam Willis reminds us.

Chiming notes echo through every track like someone using a cave full of icicles as percussion, voices emerge from the mist every so often, but its by no means an ambient album (it’s so tempting to write ‘chill out’) – the melodies and samples might be on the same euphoric/melancholic borderline as early Aphex Twin and Brian Eno, but they’re the flakes that fall on the skipping 4/4 programmed beats, recalling the likes of Four Tet or Actress.

The title track is the album’s centrepiece, eight minutes of minimal, beautiful, chilled (sorry) house: a repeating pattern of creaking floorboard noises, vocal samples chopped to the point where they sound like softly chanting monks, the same driving beat, and some long-held synth keys floating in and out. It’s like Kraftwerk if they were Scandinavian, basically (they’d probably look quite snazzy decked out in Faroe jumpers).

It’s an immersive album, without ever fading away from your immediate attention – Willis has mixed the warm sounds of analogue electronics with just the right amount of harsher, colder new technology to keep you enraptured but awake. At the end of it all, we’re shove back towards reality a short sound collage, with a repetitive vocal like a mantra bringing you out of hypnosis. Not that he needs that to get our attention – ‘Winterval’ does that on its own more than well enough. The sound of wet dawn inks doing their blue dissolve, but with a few more colours dropped onto the page too.

8/10

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