Windsor for the Derby – How We Lost

If life was ever truly fair, then Windsor For The Derby would be nearly always be mentioned in the same breath as Yo La Tengo, The Sea And Cake, American Analog Set, Slint and Gastr Del Sol. Yet the group – led by the co-founding duo of Dan Matz and Jason McNeely – continues to hold a painfully unobtrusive position below such a high-pecking order. Whilst much of this could be down to the (un)natural injustices of the music world, it’s hard not to think that Matz and McNeely probably planned some of it this way; given their wilfully oblique live shows, their taciturn response to critical interrogation, the minimalist visual presence of their catalogue and their defiantly unfashionable sonic furrow-ploughing. But despite themselves, Matz and McNeely have – since the pastoral near-perfection of 2002’s The Emotional Rescue LP – cut a slew of smoulderingly sublime recordings that might one day help WFTD to be acknowledged as a genuinely special band. And come that time, this latest long-player would undoubtedly be near the top of the essential listening list.

Smudging the darker streaks that made its predecessor – 2005’s Giving Up The Ghost – a little less approachable than Emotional Rescue and 2005’s balmy We Fight Til’ Death, the self-deprecatingly anointed How We Lost is possibly WFTD’s brightest, dreamiest and most melodic statement to date. It’s twining of tuneful tenderness and tension-releasing energy finds the ensemble reassuringly at ease with itself.

The languorous “Let Go” opens proceedings with an elegiac ‘80s Factory/4AD drum and dronescape with Matz’s hushed tones declaring, “Grab a hold of everything you know – and let go,” as if it were a some form of personal manifesto commitment. Whilst it’s perhaps a circuitous calling-card for what follows, it reinforces the feeling that the members of WFTD care about little besides living inside a self-contained bubble. By the second track we’re into the blissful fuzz-rock of “Maladies”, which bleeds into the wordless throb of “Robin Robinette”, that in turn glides into the gorgeous shimmering chug of “Fallen Off The Earth”. At the LP’s midpoint, the delightful harmony-saturated “Hold On” wafts into earshot, reincarnating The Beach Boys’ Carl and Dennis Wilson with a serene Spiritualized space-rock groove. It’s the kind of song that could/should be a bonafide ‘hit’ across the airwaves, albeit in a more enlightened parallel universe.

With Matz relaxed and optimistic over an unplugged duet of guitars, “Forgotten” keeps the bar raised high with an unintentional – but certainly not unwelcome – nod to Jim O’Rourke’s masterful Halfway To A Threeway EP. The ensuing “Troubles” folds back How We Lost into an electro-acoustic mesh that buries Matz’s pipes deep into the mix in preparation for “What We Want” and its blur of string-bending, loose percussive bedding and nagging organ motifs. The graceful “Good Things” remains roughly within the same dense sound collage before the finale of “Spirit Fade”, which strips away some studio layers for an elegant almost ecclesiastical drift into a foggy undetermined distance – leaving you wanting more than the whole album’s somewhat terse 36 minute running time. That’s part of WFTD’s charming stubbornness though; just when you think you might have figured-out what makes Matz, McNeely and co. capable of such captivating craftsmanship, they down tools and fly back into their own mystery.

Although How We Lost is still unlikely to earn Windsor For The Derby some long-overdue kudos amongst the art-rock intelligentsia, it deserves to be recognised as one of the warmest and most quietly revelatory records to be released this year.