The Dipsomaniacs

Praying Winter

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Praying Winter is a highly addictive collection of psychedelic pop songs. The emphasis must be put on the word "songs." The stripped-down instrumentation (mostly guitar, piano, bass, and drums) keeps the focus on Øyvind Holm's strong songwriting. He rarely fails to pin down a good melody and when he's in a very good mood he can brush elbows with the greatests -- "One Good Cry" has a vintage Elvis Costello quality to it that makes it a highlight of this album. John Lennon often comes to mind in other places. Here and there guests bring in a new color: a trombone here, a string quartet there, and Håkon Gebhardt's banjo in "No. 2 Ventricle Road," another fine moment. Some groups will force the psychedelic note. On Praying Winter, the Dipsomaniacs show that they don't need to. They can play their instruments in the straightest way possible and Technicolor volutes still fill the air (witness the jazz-tinged "Dead Men Free"). And yet, Praying Winter defies easy subgentrification: it is first and foremost a pop album that can appeal to a large cross-section of music lovers. Holm and co. steer clear of overdone effects, clichéd lyrics, and bland choruses. The production is sleek without stripping away the deeply felt honesty of the performance, which makes the songs all the more powerful and memorable. Three or four songs hit you on first listen: the aforementioned "One Good Cry," "How to Fall," and "Dear Mrs. Widdecombe." The other tracks reveal their clever arrangements and infectious melodies over time, as if Holm was giving you a chance to savor his songs a few at a time. Pop album of the year? Pretty damn close.

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