Ball of Wax 49 Songs: The Winterlings – “The Dead”

[With this post, we’re welcoming a new writer to the Ball of Wax fold. I’m pleased to introduce Aurora Fonseca-Llloyd, who has already upped the literary ante around here with this first review. -ed.]

Seattle-based indie folk duo The Winterlings make a lot from simple elements in “The Dead.” There is a jangly electric guitar playing straightforward chords, a bassline built of long, slow notes, and simple drumming with plenty of snare and a few well-placed crashes of the cymbal. The trembling vibrato of singer Wolff Bowden’s voice is backed by a chorus of ahhs. The various parts are woven deftly above the twang of the guitar, the tension in the song rising and falling and rising again before coming to a gentle end.

The song shares a title with one of James Joyce’s best short stories, and the lyrics play on similar themes, its sharp metaphors and simple chorus – “the dead are still giving birth to all the life we have left” – exploring the space between a horror of death and the hope that a life might resonate beyond its end. The shifting layers of instruments, the words, the angelic backing voices, the ache of Bowden’s singing combine to move the listener to a joyous sort of acceptance of the inevitabilities of existence. In the chaos we live in, it’s lovely to feel that kind of complicated pleasure.

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