Winona - Rosebud
Simon Jay Catling 21/03/2008
Who remembers 'Monkey Dust'? Created by Shaun Pye and the late Harry Thompson, the animated series satirised many aspects of modern day Britain and featured twisted comedy that cuts open the dark and seedy nature of this country. Some of the more controversial sketches included the training of terrorists in the West Midlands, paedophile witch hunts and our nations increasing obsession with fame and celebrity. Wrapped around this warped, nocturnal world was a soundtrack of quite remarkable potency; the minimal electronica of 'Boards Of Canada', the down tempo 'Nithin Sawnhey' and the murky, ethereal world of early 'Goldfrapp' regularly punctuated scenes and dragged each episode further down into a black hole of humour. The reason I mention Monkey Dust is because, upon listening to 'Rosebud', the listener is reminded instantly of that same dark, otherworldly music.
'Winona' are a rather complicated mixture of film composers, lyricists, musical programmers, actresses and vocalists. Winona herself acts as the lyricist, whilst programmer Scott Fraser and score writer Craig Armstrong provide the music. French actress Laurence Ashley contributes spoken word lyrics that melt into the velvet voice of singer Lucy Pullin. Confused? Don't worry; whilst on paper this concoction sounds like the proverbial too many cooks, in practise the whole thing comes across bearing a lot more fruit than could be expected. Starting off with the atmosphere building 'The White Room'- a song that brings to mind 'Felt Mountain'-era Goldfrapp, Winona are clearly a group who wear their influences on their sleeve; this isn't to their detriment too much however as throughout this album they pluck inspiration from a range of the finest electronic musicians spreading over the annals of time. 'Without You,' featuring the sensual vocals of Pullin, brings to mind late 90's Massive Attack; the simmering, burbling bass and rhythm provides a sinister but subtle drive under the echoing vocals and vacuous synths. Second track 'Celebrity' meanwhile evokes a very 80s electro feel, as Pullin's vocals are modulated and pulled out of recognition to fall in line with the sirens and squiggles; it's on these vocal lead tracks where Winona excel. However, when they decide to go further down the minimal route there's still riches to be had. 'De Nada' is a haunting, maimed creature of a song: using falsetto vocal and string samples with (yes another name drop,) Kraftwerk styled low synths to create a soundscape that's bleak, and isolated almost entirely from the rest of the album. Songs with a bit more urgency to them include the rather Jarre-esque 'You Can Dance I Can't' and the bold, brash 'If Only'. The album finishes with the epic, slow build up of 'Winona Falls'- a piece that gradually builds from a sparse background inch by inch before slowly exhaling and thus bringing the album to an awkward but brilliantly uncertain conclusion. It's this kind of sinister magic that can make 'Rosebud' a compelling listen.
But, there are criticisms to be had. With such obvious debts to their inspirations, it seems at times that Winona can veer into the unimaginative and plain dull; it could be argued for instance that 'Indigenous' is a Nitin Sawnhey song in all but name, whilst elsewhere the ghosts of electronic past constantly resurrect themselves to the point where it can get a bit, well, obvious. There's also a fair bit of filler here, as there is can be with a lot of this type of music; holding suspense and atmosphere for an entire album is a very tricky thing to do and for the most part Winona do it well. However, at times on some of more synth driven songs there can be a bit of a one-paced feel, and on the likes of 'De Nada' there's an argument to be made that it could be shortened. However, these flaws aside, there's no denying that this is a solid, at times beautiful escape into a dream-filled, wistful world that shows a dark underbelly- combining both the familiarity and peacefulness of nightfall but also the insecure, isolation in the darkness that comes with it. Now if only they had a TV series to put it to…