Reviews of Stars in Winter
February 10, 2002
Sinkcharmer, Stars in Winter (Unstoppable/Handstand Command)
One of the many bands making up Boston's Handstand Command arts group, Sinkcharmer is an eight-piece outfit specializing in moody and dysfunctional music. The band's disc, Stars in Winter, is an epic journey through pop, rock, folk and electronic sounds, with front man, Paul Coleman using heavy but stilted guitars and gloomy vocals to give the piece a confused, jolted, often depressing feel. "Brightest Minute in the Darkest Hour" and "Down to Dollars" demonstrate the band's willingness to experiment with bizarre studio noises to assist with the car-crash-fantasy-type music filling out much of the record, the latter sounding oddly like early Mamas and the Papas. "As Nevada Burns", "Precious Lies" and "The Lightest Way" cut this experimentation back a little resulting in some decent, understated tracks. Stars in Winter fails only due to the lack of variety among the tracks, with the album often sounding like one long song. Tunes drift and sway back and forth into and out of each other so much that you never really know where you're up to, or, for that matter, what Sinkcharmer is up to. As an experimental piece among friends, though -- it passes.
- Nikki Tranter
From Delusions of Adequacy
December 16, 2002
Over 16 songs that don't wear out their welcome, Sinkcharmer puts together a fine, tiny album of warm intentions and sometimes cold feelings. Unassumingly emotional and spilling over with personality, nothing here necessarily forces your attention, which is a compliment in this case. There are enough things that make loud noise. It's sometimes really nice to find things that can be effective while keeping it down.
The playing and production are gleefully sloppy and intentionally lo-fi, though not sloppily lo-fi because you can actually distinguish the vocals and the sounds are relatively loud and up-front. It will alienate some, but it is part of what helps make the group ultimately memorable.
The off-kilter singing doesn't necessarily aspire to greatness or even affectation; it just seems to fit. The electronics they use can add a bit of an icy feel that sometimes steels the warmth; they throw in drum machines and synthesizers over guitars, bass, and occasional live drumming. When they work they sit right in the mix and the band is free to move over top of them. At its very best, especially on the excellent "20 Paces," you can practically feel everything falling into place.
Arty - as in art-rock - at their heart, the songs are ambitious without being alienating. They manage to keep things grounded even when throwing in an early Genesis cover ("Dusk"). For every two sloppy and fun yet toss-away songs, they deliver a slice of heartfelt songwriting that pulls the disc back into focus ("Stars in Winter," "Rubber Legs," "Precious Lies"). They exude a sense of sincerity and an innocence that flirts with naivety but that ultimately works. Imagine a young Peter Gabriel playing with an 8-track and cheap keyboards in his kitchen, and that's a poor man's way of describing the overall effect of the push and pull of their ambitions with their lo-fi aesthetic. They even fall prey to some of Gabriel's weaknesses, over-simplifying complex problems or just building a song around a misguided idea ("Down to Dollars").
To be up front, the disc first rubbed me as a bit disingenuous. After seeing them live I gave it more of a chance and found a new appreciation for it; they walk a fine line. Primarily made-up of Jef Czekaj and half of Boston's Operators, Jen Godfrey and Paul Coleman (he wrote the excellent "The Old Man Doesn't Like It" off their Citizens Band disc), Sinkcharmer has produced a low-key gem. You end-up rooting for the band as opposed to against them. They win, if we're competing, on honest-to-God sincerity. And I never really thought I'd be able to say that about a band.
- Jon, 12/16/02
From Bust Magazine
Winter 2002 (the Music Issue)
Sinkcharmer Stars in Winter (Unstoppable Records)
Like a valentine made by your 3-year-old cousin, Sinkcharmer has made something beautiful, messy, and completely heartfelt with their album, Stars in Winter. It's reminiscent of the beloved Neutral Milk Hotel and most of the bands in the Elephant 6 Collective, but is wonderfully expansive from song to song. Sinkcharmer sounds like they had a blast recording this album, and it's even more fun to listen to. Songs like "Last Dance" are spazzy delights, and the first track, "The End," is wintry and gentle. It's the rare CD that you put on and immediately grow attached to, but this album is so charming and utterly non-abrasive that it somehow worms its way into your player and won't leave for days. The singing is a little off-key, and the drums sometimes sound a moment too late, but you won't notice any of the flaws, in fact they add to the considerable allure of this triumphant little treasure. -Molly Simms
From Chart Magazine
Sinkcharmer Stars in Winter (Unstoppable)
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the folks in Sinkcharmer hail from Wollaston, Massachusetts -- well maybe the Wollaston part, but I'm guessing that's a suburb of Boston. With close to a thousand (slight hyperbole) colleges in and around Boston, it's no big shocker that the lo-fi indie rock scene is alive and kicking on the East Coast, and Sinkcharmer are doing a fine job fitting into it. Relying heavily on minor chords and a witty, dry sense of humour, these 16 tracks have the ability to melt your heart while simultaneously making you want to drink your sorrows away. Contact: www.sinkcharmer.com --SSe
(4C's out of 5)
FROM Lost at Sea
November 6, 2002
Stars in Winter
This is a good album. I like it very much. I hadnít ever heard of these guys before. Theyíre eastcoasters. There are some songs that arenít as good as the other songs but most of them are really good. I think theyíre young. I looked up their stuff on the internet and they only have a couple of albums, so I bet theyíre pretty young.
They seem like they would be cool to hang out with because I bet they have a good sense of humor. Theyíre not jokers or anything. Theyíre not stupid like the Bloodhound Gang. They just seem grounded: not assholes or self-mutilators or space cadets or people with lots of mirrors in their house, um... narcissists. The girl that sings isnít that good of a singer but she makes me feel good and she isnít very self-conscious. Iím referencing "Goosemayer." Theyíre just a band having fun in that song like in the old days. Thereís this one point at the end of the song where the girl goes, ďOh, Goosemayer!Ē and thatís really nice. Youíd have to hear it- itís the way she says it thatís just cool. Actually the lead singer guy doesnít sing very well either, but it doesnít matter. He puts his body into it.
Then sometimes they get serious and kind of dramatic and everything, and thatís good too. The first song starts off like an introduction should, all slow and setting the mood which is a little late-fall-outdoorsy-electronic-ukulele-mushroom-trip-ish. The second song is driving like Hunter Thompson through the desert, and the third song reminds me of the Magnetic Fields if they lost their irony. Itís kind of mesmerizing and upbeat and it bores happily into your head. The fourth song states the theme: stars in winter, and they say it a bunch of times but you donít get tired of it. And goddamn, the fifth song kicks so much ass I canít even stand it. They call it "Down to Dollars" and I think itís about corporate buttheads but in the background they have like a Will Rogers horse trot and a violin playing the theme from Psycho or something and they say, "none of them really give a fuck," and the funny thing is it sounds like they donít really give a fuck but theyíre getting into it anyway. And then thereís a bunch of good songs after that too. Nine of them I think.
Sometimes Iíll drift off and forget Iím listening to their album and Iíll think itís one of Pavementís albums, like Wowee Zowee maybe, which is their best one. Sinkcharmer likes to go all atonal kind of like Pavement but their lyrics arenít as overtly poetical like Malkmusí are. Sometimes they sound like a double-time Modest Mouse that donít hate themselves. Itís just nice to hear a band with a realistic perspective on life; not bubbly and mindless and not cave-dwelling and mopey and not angry and violent and not überpolitical and acidic, but is able to approach songs from many different angles under one musical umbrella. I hope these guys come to California and play for me. (San Francisco or maybe Modesto. Yeah, Modesto!!)
Reviewed by Neil David Burkey (where albums go to die)
FROM Stylus Magazine
published by the University of Winnepeg Student Association
Stars in Winter
Part of Somerville, Massachusettsí young Handstand Command collective, Sinkcharmer is the project of The Operators' Paul Coleman, and in true collective fashion, The Operators' Jen Godfrey and Emily Arkin take part (they kindly provide a family tree of sorts at http:// handstandcommand.tripod.com/bands.html to help those who care figure out whoís who in the handstand world). Like a less-raucous version of The Operators, Sinkcharmer throws its violins, keyboards, and bells and whistles in the kitchen sink and waits for the lo-fi magic-- which comes and goes with the attention span of a two year old. Casio beats and wobbly vocals alternately sound surprisingly charming and squeamishly amateur. And please don't listen too closely to the lyrics- even the vocalists can't keep a straight face through the embarrassing "Goosemayer". In the end, the charm they have in spades; perhaps it's only a matter of time before the skill catches up with them. (Unstoppable Records) -Anna Gilfillan
Sinkcharmer-Stars in Winter
There's something in Stars in Winter that could have easily become a big, overblown rock concept album about the emptiness of greed and bright lights and the dogged pursuit of shiny things as opposed to the simple joys of, say, sitting at home and four-tracking banjo-based songs with your fellow starving artists. Fortunately, that uneasy potential is never realized. Instead, we have a small, endearing album with earnest indie-rock attitudes transferred to the homely-by-nature atmosphere of weird strummy instrumentation (who isn't a fan of the humble autoharp?) and campfire sing-alongs.
Sinkcharmer frontman Paul Coleman also spends time playing drums and theremin for the Operators, and his songs on their records are oases of off- kilter prettiness in the midst of the band's hyperactively angular rock tunes. Maybe it's because this is a whole album of just him, but his songs here seem more plainspoken and certainly more folky, though never merely pedestrian acoustic singer-songwriter fare. There's a willful, wide-eyed innocence to almost all these songs -- very nicely so on tracks like the female-sung stream- of-consciousness fairy tale "Goosemayer", some of which sounds eerily like the Moldy Peaches minus the dick obsession and plus a bit more musical experience, and less successfully on others, like "As Nevada Burns" and "Down To Dollars", which often simplify wide-ranging societal issues to "Oh my goodness, some people actually seek out money! Isn't that awful?"
Even saying that seems unnecessarily critical, as Sinkcharmer's winsome lack of pretentiousness makes anything remotely resembling a dis feel like you're insulting your friends at a party where, after dinner, everyone gets together and plays a few songs. For all the amateurish implications inherent in that image, though, these are genuinely good folk-rock songs that feel like everyone in earshot lent a hand: the guy with the half-broken drum machine, the kids with scavenged flea-market accordions and zithers, the innumerable girls with acoustic guitars and any drunken neighbors they could convince to sing backup, all helping to make something more than any twentysomethings fooling around have a right to. The narrators of Sinkcharmer's songs may be easily wounded, but they're just as easily delighted -- and that's delightful to hear. -- Mandy Shekleton
Sinkcharmer, Stars in Winter
Listening to Sinkcharmer's Stars in Winter is probably what it felt like for Charlie to go up, up, up in Willy Wonka's elevator rocketship-a tripped-out floating experience that makes you smile. Their third album following 1999's Mastro of Puppies and 2000's Breaking the Slide Rule-Sinkcharmer definitely has something here. All 16 songs are for the most part as light and fluffy as Redi-Whip with a few songs like the title track and "The Lighted Way" a bit heavier, acting as a nice counter balance or else the entire project would float away. Instrumentals and vocals are nicely arranged and complement each other well-you really don't want any vying for attention from either side on an album like this. Definitely an album for those times when you need something to zone out to and a band that would fit in a coffeehouse setting. -C.E. Pelc