It’s no secret that Eli Winter is one of the brightest new lights in the world of guitar music today. His sophomore release, Unbecoming, is just the latest strong case for this argument.
Winter’s spellbinding debut, The Time To Come, dropped only last year (and ended up being one of my favorite records of the decade). It wasn’t going to be easy to top, and the sheer amount of possibilities of what this extremely talented young musician could do next on his follow-up could have become paralyzing. Yet, Winter overcame these potential obstacles and delivered a record that steps out of its predecessor’s shadow, showing a vast deal of artistic growth, and plots a clear and confident direction for where the artist wants to go.
Through just instrumental music alone, Winter expertly communicates a plethora of complicated and intense emotions throughout each of the record’s three songs
—outdoing what most lyricists could accomplish with three times as many tracks (and years of experience!)
He’s able to achieve this through a spectacular display of subtlety with his fingerpicking, which pulls the listener closer into the world of each piece, allowing for every note to be truly felt. This is especially evident in the opening epic, “Either I Would Become Ash,” which is based on poet Tory Dent’s powerful essay of the same name.
“Either I…” clashes melancholic tangles of spry guitar licks with hammered clangs on the instrument’s strings and slowly reverberating strums, which hang in the air like dust particles suspended in sunbeams. This track is a dense cloud of sparking notes and pleading melodies that all course from a well of grief, anger and an unexpected pool of hope. To put it mildly, listening to this song is a cathartic experience that is absolutely essential in 2020.
The following track, “Maroon,” is a departure from Winter’s solo guitar work, and involves a crew of trusted collaborators that lend their talents (Sam Wagster of Mute Duo on pedal steel guitar, Cameron Knowler on nylon string guitar and Tyler Damon on drums). The tune is a gorgeously mellow glide through Winter’s more bucolic side, as his and Knowler’s guitars dance elegant swirls around each other. Meanwhile, Wagster decorates the piece with warm waves of steel slide, which coat the background like sheets of golden sunlight. This is the kind of song that makes you want to drive through a misty pastoral landscape shortly after the break of dawn.
Closing the album is the live electric “Dark Light,” which leans more into Winter’s predilection for dissonance, drone and feedback. If Bill Orcutt took over the Dead Man soundtrack sessions, this is how it might’ve sounded. Angular phrases and abstract lines warp and twist into unexpected directions, which, when combined with the guitar’s roughened, nearly rusted-like sound, serves almost as the antithesis to the harmonious opening track. Yet, bookending the record with these two contrasting songs actually highlights how they and Winter’s various playing styles compliment and relate to each other, in terms of tone and intention. They are the artist’s yin-and-yang committed to tape.
Winter shows an impeccably wide spectrum of interests, strengths and versatility across all of Unbecoming‘s three tracks. You just know that however his sound evolves further by the time of his next record, it’s bound to be fascinating, and executed exceedingly well. We’re looking forward to it.
You can buy Eli Winter’s new record today right here.
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