The debut album by Athens quintet the Winter Sounds is severely hampered by either an unfortunately over-restrictive production concept or, more likely, insufficient funds and the lack of a decent recording studio. The tinny, cracker-box sound of Porcelain Empire is a real shame, because close listening to the songs through the medium-fi recording reveals a group with a lot of genuinely interesting musical ideas that they didn't have the opportunity to fully explore. There is little the average indie pop fan hasn't heard before here. Echoes of everyone from the Athens contingent of the old Elephant 6 crowd (especially Of Montreal and Elf Power) to Grandaddy to Interpol and the Killers can be found here. Singer Patrick Keenan has a likable, if slightly ordinary, voice, and the tunes themselves are filled with unexpected melodic digressions and a solid sense of dynamics that allows a song like "Static in the Whole" to shift easily from a churning, double-time verse to a floaty B section that lifts it above the ordinary. But if only those omnipresent xylophone and synth parts had some beefier instrumentation to back them up, or if the production had enough depth and space to allow the processed vocals at the start of "Sound Forged Like Spine" to really pop as they should. The Winter Sounds have a potentially great piece of modern dream pop/psych in them, but despite the appealing elements on display throughout Porcelain Empire, this isn't quite it.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason