Following up their debut single White Lights with this impressive EP, Scotland's Campfires in Winter have the feel of a confident band, mixing a light post-rock sound with surging regional vocals that are key to their sound.
Comparisons with The Twilight Sad are inevitable though the guitars aren't quite as angry and the mood not quite so dark. That's not to say opener 'With a Ragged Diamond' is a model of utopia: "there's too many bodies in this house", sings Robert Canavan on an opening line which sweeps in behind a wave of guitars. The song is at its best when Canavan takes control, something that is sure to become a hallmark of the band. The chorus surges with a tremendous power. There was a time when post-rock bands, like shoe-gazers before them, would bury vocals deep down to the point they're barely audible. Campfires in Winter are another who dispense with this trick, relying heavily on the singer's vocal ability.
Title track 'Picture of Health' begins with a pleasing keyboard intro, before Canavan kicks in, at times singing acapella. "It was not my choice to be born", among the increasingly bleak lyrics. It gets darker too, "I'm unwieldy, I attract the flies, I'm something to be cast aside, I'm punished by their judging eyes....". So, ehm, aye. Not one to get a party started, but the narrative is effective, powerful and direct.
There's a lot of different ideas going on across the four tracks - from the acapella, to impressive harmonies on 'See Us There, Both' and the more accessible 'Stories', and its hugely infectious chorus. The guitars, while powerful, are more rock than post-rock while there's some beautiful piano contrasting the guitars too. With careful arrangements it's never too much, though the rhythm section feels too clean at times and is at odds with the tone of the EP. Basslines stand out in places when they could be mixed lower into the track, more heavily distorted. When they do rumble along the tracks take on a more foreboding atmosphere and it'll be interesting to see how this progresses on the album as this is a band who seem capable of being incendiary. It's an assured release that hopefully whets the appetite for what could be a very interesting debut long player.