Music is a funny thing. It can make a person feel all range of emotions, depending on how the notes ring in your ears, how the beat alters the thumping in your chest, how the vocals make you unable to speak. And sometimes, for some unknown reason, one song can cling to the back of your brain, replaying itself over and over again with each familiar sight, smell or sensation. In the opinion of this humble music lover, Scott Windsor, along with his band Umbrellas, have crafted the perfect song - "The City Lights." Breathtaking piano work, frail, sad vocals, that string section that shimmers in like the northern lights; this song is to my ears what Diane Kruger is to my eyes - the closest I may ever be to perfection. However, to base an album on one song would be to ignore not only the many other fine facets of the album, but the album's flaws, as well.
Umbrellas is a bit of a paradox to me. The good songs on this album are some of the most beautiful, well written songs I've ever heard. And the bad ones seem not only like they were written by someone else, but like they were accidentally placed on an otherwise outstanding album. The overall flow of the album is nice, but at times a little annoying, as the moods of the songs distinctly and abruptly shift from happy to depressing. (See tracks 4-6, for example)
The album enters with the stunning tune, "The City Lights." As Windsor sings "Have you been to a place like this?", you begin to wonder if you truly ever have. "See your breath as it paints against the sky" is one of the most visual lines I have heard. A better entrance to an album is rarely heard, but you can't help but feel that the album as a whole can only go downhill from there. "Sleep Well" cranks up the mope-factor about a hundred times, and while the song has a beautiful premise, Windsor's robotic voice tends to grate about halfway through. "Ghost" brings back the magic, as Windsor's vocals soar over clouds, bringing grace to earnest lyrics like "When you hear this song, I hope your ears bleed." The upbeat style of "Broken Ice" is a refreshing change on an otherwise slow album. The guitar chords ring like chimes in this song, which takes a break from the piano and really sets up a happy vibe. However, that vibe is quickly shattered, as the gloom takes over again on "Emergency," a pretty but dull track that is apparently about some mentally ill relative. The only thing that this song establishes is that Scott Windsor can indeed carry a song entirely on the virtue of his fragile voice. "The Black Dress" is finally an injection of life into the disc. Equally as pretty as most of the tracks on the disc, but with 10 time as much bounce and handclaps, "The Black Dress" tells the tale of the girl at the club that every guy here would love to take home. If you're not clapping along by the end of this song, I can no longer help you.
Here, however, is where a gorgeous album turns slightly sour for me. "Reactionary" starts off sounding like a comatose sailor tapping the keys in the corner of that dirty bar no one goes to. Honestly, if you ever need to fall asleep, put this track on. While "June Summer Rose" incorporates some nice drum work, and an interesting story behind it, this song is borderline snoozer as well. After hearing these two songs, one realizes that Scott Windsor should never again write a song in a minor key again. However, he learns his lesson, it seems, as "Your Exit" is another gorgeous gem to add to this disc. Your heart lifts as Windsor breathes, "I'll be your exit, if you'll just give me mine..." This song is further proof that Umbrellas is a band that knows how to write songs based solely on sad-sounding piano notes, and once again, it works wonders. "Vampires" is easily the biggest gaffe on the album, as it's country-ish feel is completely out of place and obnoxious, and the lyrics only make it more confusing. The lounge vibe of "Comfort in Suffering" conjures up images of smoke-thick air and cocktail dresses. While it's not Umbrellas best work, it is a nice change of pace. "Set the Scene" is a decent little song that closes out the album with a quick waltzy pace and happy guitar, but it leaves the listener wanting something more like "The City Lights" as a sendoff.
As a whole, Umbrellas is like a walk through a shady meadow with a warm breeze wrapping around you. Unfortunately, you stepped in a mud puddle halfway through, and the trip home wasn't as enjoyable as you might have imagined. Your impression of this album, like mine, will depend entirely on how certain aspects of it hit you. If you are already a fan of Scott Windsor's vocals, they are in fine form on this disc. If you think he sounds like a girl, you wouldn't be the first, and this probably isn't for you. If piano-laden tunes are your thing, you might be in heaven when you hear this album. If you like, say, Cattle Decapitation...again, probably not for you. If you are looking to be swept off your feet, listen to "The City Lights". If you are looking for quiet but enjoyable listen to a group of talented songwriters and musicians, take a listen to Umbrellas.
[fs-Track List]1) The City Lights
2) Sleep Well
4) Broken Ice
6) The Black Dress
8) June Summer Rose
9) Your Exit
11) Comfort in Suffering
12) Set the Scene[/fs]