Debut double CDs are usually greeted as a bit audacious, and it probably should be counted as doubly-so when the music contained within them could easily be contained on a single platter. So goes for this self-titled release from spoken word and music duo Winter Family. That's right, the group finds Israeli artist Ruth Rosenthal and French musician Xavier Klaine creating minimal pieces that find her words (in both English and Hebrew) mingling with piano, harmonium, and pipe organ. It's definitely audacious, and quite possibly pretentious, but amazingly they've managed to put together something that's charming at times and deeply hypnotic in others.
The release opens with "Salted Slug," and things are pretty dour as minor-key close-mic'ed piano provides a backdrop for the quiet, breathy words of Rosenthal veer between English and Hebrew in abstract ways, painting an evocative and strange portrait. "Psaume" is even better, with droning wheezes of harmonium layered upon one another while words entirely in Hebrew sound like some sort of mystical and even seductive call.
Considering the somewhat limited palette that the duo works with, they've actually managed to create a highly varied batch of songs. "Nous Les Vivants" is probably the most over-dramatic piece on the entire release, with massive church organs that come crashing down from above while Rosenthal is at her most theatrical. "Republique" also takes advantage of said organs, but is much more successful, stretching out over thirteen minutes and playing on subtle note changes and much more subdued vocal stylings. Oddly enough, the most jaunty song is the downright odd "Auschwitz," which mixes completely bizarre lyrics with playful piano melodies and a mouth harp.
That said, the release does have some soft spots. "Just Like We Said" is essentially a lackluster revisiting of the earlier "Garden" and "So Soon" suffers from a more open live-sound recording that feels completely out of place amongst the other pieces. When the group hits their stride, though, the beauty of their music is simply hard to deny. Both "So Soon" and "Golden Sword" strip things down to just simple piano melodies and words, but they're absolutely gorgeous. Like many debut albums, Winter Family is a bit too ambitious in places, and certainly has a couple stumbles (not to mention the 2CD set, which is a bit annoying considering the entire release spans just over sixty minutes in total length), but it shows a lot of promise as well, and is most likely something quite different than anything you've heard lately.