El Toreo 3:300:00 / 3:30
Album Review: Mark Bragg - Winter
By: James Titford
Mark Bragg- Winter/ Release Date: March 29th 2018
Going into Mark Bragg’s new album Winter having only previously listened to the singles from said album, I found myself both enjoying the album quite a bit and having a desire to explore his back catalogue.
At its core, the album is a collection of singer/songwriter ballads grounded in a sombre yet uplifting tone. As the album begins with the opening title track “Winter”, you’re greeted with a song that sets the stage for the album and lets you know what you’re getting into. It’s a piano- and vocal-centered ballad with Mark asking winter if it has called his lover away from him. As the song goes on, it gradually builds with the inclusion of drums, a string section, and an ambient synth. It gets to the point where the instruments have become powerful, loud and intense, and the vocals have gone from a quiet whimper to a passionate cry. It then falls back to the reserved sound from the opening to end the song. This is what to expect from most of the album, which isn’t a bad thing. It keeps the album from feeling unfocused and it makes the moments where the album does something different leave more of an impact.
Take the second track, “El Toreo” for example. After the first track you’d expect more of the same, but instead, you get a rock song in the vein of Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. Or the track “Bad Luck”, which is a fun, upbeat tune complete with a bright, blaring horn section that is very reminiscent of the late 90s third wave ska sound. It helps to liven up the album and is a pleasant surprise.
The variety of musical inspirations isn’t just on display in the previously mentioned tracks; you can hear them throughout the album. Another notable song “Tiny Red Ribbons”—with its laid-back lounge atmosphere, solo trumpet lines, and Mark’s croon—gives off a very strong early Tom Waits vibe. There’s also the heavier track “Lorelei” which seems to draw a clear influence from alternative and indie rock.
The song writing and production helps to make this album really feel like winter. The album has a very lonely, cold feeling throughout that fits perfectly with Mark’s lyrics of lost loves and longing. I especially like the use of atmospheric noise throughout the album to fill in the empty space before other instruments are added. It reminds me of hearing the wind outside on a stormy night. The production work also helps with the theme of winter. The mix features all instruments clearly and sharply, giving the album an icy finish.
All in all, Winter is an album I would recommend to anyone looking for an enjoyable and satisfying singer/songwriter album. While it’s not hard to hear musical influences on this album, it never gets to the point where it becomes distracting or where it feels like the band is trying to copy someone else. It’s an emotional, personal journey that I’m happy Mark Bragg has taken us on. After already hearing it several times while writing this review I can say this is an album I will be returning to as the year goes on. I also look forward to hearing his previous work that I’ve unfortunately missed out on.