The Windmills - Now Is Then

matcd028  /  November 2003
The Windmills - Now Is Then
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The Windmills - Now Is Then

matcd028  /  November 2003

Stunning new long-player from Essex hitmakers The Windmills contains eleven of the strongest songs the band has recorded to date. Following the critical success of their previous album "Sunlight" and inaugural live dates in the US, The Windmills spent the greater part of a year writing and recording the songs for this third album. Perfectly mixing new pop classics like "Summer Snow," "Beach Girls 1918" and "Something Spring" with mature, tragic songs "Your Fingers and Mine" and "Ever To Exist" and the extraordinary title track - a tightly strummed guitar pop masterpiece that recalls the best of The Wedding Present - The Windmills have hit on something truly magic. Glittering guitar pop with intelligent lyrics and wonderfully warm vocals that places them in the same league as the bands to which they are frequently compared: Go-Betweens, East Village, and The Smiths. If you were tuned into The Windmills from previous releases then you undoubtedly have this on your shopping list already, but if not, make this your first stop. "Now Is Then" is the band's defining moment and the gauge against which all future releases will be judged.

  1. Ever to Exist
  2. Beach Girls 1918
  3. Now is Then
  4. Footprints
  5. Walking Around the World
  6. Your Fingers and Mine
  7. Something Spring
  8. Across the Playing Fields
  9. Amelia
  10. Summer Snow
  11. Time Machine


The Windmills' second full-length follows the same blueprint as their first: classic guitar-driven indie pop in the style of Lloyd Cole, the Weather Prophets, and the Go-Betweens. Now Is Then is just as strong in every department; the songs are rich and full of emotion, the guitars ring and strum like they should, and Roy Thirlwall's vocals are deep and poignant, falling firmly in the style of crooners like Robert Forster, Lawrence Hayward from Felt, and Nick Heyward. The feeling of the record is very autumnal, just this side of gloomy. On tracks like "Walking Around the World," the sweetly pastoral "Amelia," and the subdued (and very Felt-like) "Your Fingers and Mine," Thirlwall sounds like he is walking through rainy Essex side streets with his collar turned up against the cold, singing to himself quietly. The mood lifts briefly on the album's uptempo tracks like the bouncy "Something Spring" and the hard-charging "Now Is Then," but even those tracks have less than cheery lyrics. There is tragedy running through this album; anytime you drop lines like "Summer snow/Something cold/In my heart/Summer's slow/Suicide of my soul" (on "Summer Snow") you know you aren't dealing with happy chaps. So if you like your indie pop tear-stained and morbidly sad, Now Is Then is right up your alley, down your street, and on your front porch passing you a tissue.   --All Music Guide
In the bent of arriving on the scene with a splash, The Windmills make a wave with their new release, Now is Then. For whatever critical acclaim the quartet from Essex, England, previously garnered, what it offers this time out is a finely tuned reconstruction of mostly upbeat Britpop replete with the appropriate smattering of lovelorn aches. From start to finish of this 11-song collection, The Windmills exhibit an aptitude for learning from past successes. In the vein of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they channel classic combos such as The Smiths as well as neo-hipsters such as Interpol, but remain relevant by adding here-and-now lyrical witticisms. These appear in the occasionally hushed tones of singer/guitarist Roy Thirlwall, with pulsing instrumentation as the ideal counterbalance. Case in point is the ever-present thumping drummer Rob Clarke delivers. In a testament to recording acuity, he manages to lay down rhythms that bounce with equal vibrancy on both scaled-back gems such as “Amelia,” as they do on the pulsing title track. Whether it’s tighter kit tuning, better engineering or simply superior musicianship, the sound is always right on in a manner that would make any outfit exceedingly proud. The same can be said for the exquisite give and take between Tony Pankhurt’s guitar and Thirlwall, whose presentation lies somewhere between the droll expression of Paul Baker and Morrisey’s cynical enthusiasm. This resonates in “Walking Around the World,” perhaps the album’s most ingratiating track, as well as in the über-pop of “Beach Girls 1918.” On the latter, not even a chorus of Ba-ba-bas and Do-do-dos -- something that typically strikes a song’s death knell -- can detract from a feeling of apricot warmth. Adding a splash of color to the dreariness of English weather patterns is also “Something Spring.” It opens with an adeptly melodic guitar jangle, and the mostly instrumental song spans less than three minutes with only a few lines of lyrics. Yet, Thirlwall makes turns such as “Count the raindrops / With your eyes shut / Hold your breath and wait for luck” truly resonate, and the song feels anything but incomplete. In the end, it’s the same less-is-more approach that distinguishes this record as a whole. There are no backward-looped guitars, record scratches or samples, and still The Windmills never appear to be trying too hard. Rather, they succeed where so many have failed by delivering an unfaltering collection of uplifting pop that demands repeat listening rather than aggressive marketing.
…really I should be writing a much longer review about the Windmills’ Now Is Then album, from which ‘Time Machine’ comes, but you know life is so complicated and busy and maybe I will and maybe I wont do it when the holidays roll around, but whatever, I’m sticking this in as my mix closer because The Windmills are God and this track is just so wonderful and full of all the things that make them so. Shivering guitars, subdued infectious tunes, a beatific undertow that will drag you up to the stars, lines of words that coyly wrap themselves around your spine and squeeze your heart tight. Thank God for the Windmills.   --Tangents
With their gentle, near perfect pop songs, the Windmills fire a direct hit on that part of the brain that likes things (read: music) simple and straightforward. Though the quartet hails from England, there’s something almost Californian light to these songs: the gentle “yeah yeah yeahs” on “Beach Girls 1918” and the gentle strumming in “Something Spring.” But its not as if all the Windmills know is sunny pop. The title track is filled with frenetic drumming and finds the band sounding like a less depressed Joy Division. “Footprints” opens like a lost 60s soul/girl-group hit, and the rest of the song, vocals and all, follows suit. “Walking Around the World” opens up with a U2-like cadence before exploding into a ringing once-over chorus; it’s the most far-reaching song on the album, and it fills the sonic space between the achingly soft “Your Fingers and Mine” and “Across the Playing Fields” nicely. Speaking of “Across the Playing Fields,” this song needs to be featured on the OC immediately. I mean, c’mon, they played the Electric Soft Parade. “Across...” is like a lost pre-Kid A Radiohead ballad, all urgent and earnest. “Summer Snow” is another retro (as in 80s) rocker and sounds like Joy Division, again. This is followed by the lullaby for barflies “Time Machine,” a fitting close with its chiming guitars and slightly off-kilter melody. Here it would be interesting to note that, stylistically, the band takes from all sorts of musical places, but also that some songs are written by one lone band member; “Ever to Exist” was written by Roy Thirwell, the singer and guitarist. He also wrote “Something Spring.” He may be the “Paul” of the group. Tony Pankhurst wrote “Your Fingers and Mine.” He is “George.” Dan Pankhurst wrote “Amelia”; he may be “John.” Rob Clarke is, of course, “Ringo.” The Windmills fall somewhere between light-pop and British independent rock, more often than not combining the two, which, it turns out, is a winning formula.   --Delusions of Adequacy
As blown away as I get by music that aims high, that tries to reach for some new level of existence (think free jazz, Sigur Ros, etc), there's something so comforting about a simple well-written song. And I don't mean "simple" in any derogatory sense; there's unexplainable magic that can happen when the right person picks up an instrument, writes a song, and plays it. As impressed as I am by innovation, I'm equally impressed when a straightforward song knocks my down by being touching, beguiling, pretty, insightful and so on. The 11 songs on The Windmills' new album Now Is Then have all of those qualities and more. It's a completely unassuming album…at first it just glides right past you as a pleasant but conventional pop/rock album, but the more you listen the more you're completely absorbed by Roy Thirlwall and band's songs. It's the lyrics-these are love songs, essentially, but contain genuinely human feelings and images, a feat that shouldn't be underacknowledged-but also the hooks, the textures (and by "textures" here I mean not sweeping waves of sound or electronic beats, but the gorgeous sounds and feelings you can get from guitars when they're played a certain way), and the way the songs hang together with a certain feeling. It's a mood of hope and melancholy, lust and meditation-delivered as much through the way the words are sung or the notes are played as the content of the lyrics themselves. Now Is Then improves on their fine, slightly more melancholy debut album Sunlight just by being better…that sounds like an idiotic statement, I know, but the songs on Now Is Then just hit me in an even deeper way than on the previous album, yet it's hard to pinpoint what accounts for that besides the improvement that sometimes naturally comes with time. In any case, Now Is Then is a rich, deeply rewarding experience masquerading as just another pop album, from the opening come-on "Ever to Exist" (as in "you are the most delicate, beautiful, innocent human being ever to exist") through to the spellbinding closer "Time Machine."   --Erasing Clouds
Third full length from this classic jangle pop group from England. The band haven't deviated much from their traditionally melancholic Orchids/East Village/Go-Betweens-ish sound, though I do notice an marked improvement overall in the songwriting on this record. Just about all the songs here are gems, but "Beach Girls 1918" is easily the band's best song yet! The title track is about the only thing that you could say is a departure from their usual sound, as it rocks out quite a bit, reminding me of Pale Saints covering the Wedding Present. However, I found that the album's pace dragged a little on the slower songs (particularly "Your Fingers And Mine" and "Across The Playing Fields"), mostly due to the songs' extended lengths, as I thought that the shorter "Amelia" fit quite well. But even with that minor flaw, I still think that this is my favorite Windmills record to date.   --IndiePages
The Windmills are a band who create flawless pop songs, or so they did on 2001's Sunlight. The group, consisting of singer Roy Thirlwall, guitarist Tony Pankhurst, bassist Dan Parkhurst, and drummer Rob Clarke, have returned with another album that still has all the greatness of previous records without repeating themselves too often. The fact that it was recorded over seven days, but over the course of nearly two years, might be cause for alarm. But not to worry, this is another gem. Recalling the finest days of bands such as the Go-Betweens and the little known group with Morrissey and Marr, "Ever to Exist" is a mid-tempo melancholic pop tune that glides along effortlessly à la a Cure ballad. "You are the most delicate innocent human being ever to exist", Thirlwall sings before the song evolves slightly. Sounding just a bit resigned, the Windmills are at the top of their game on this tune. What is apparent is that the band shines from start to end, although some fans of British pop might find them a bit too sweet in the vein of Belle and Sebastian. "Beach Girls 1918" has enough "ba da bah"s and "do do do"s within to make some turn their ears away, but the Pulp-ish mood and Brit charm carry the song without fault. It moves a bit faster here but glistens courtesy of Clarke and Pankhurst (both of them). The sing-a-long refrains are repeated near the ending, but the guitars become grittier and a tad harder. It makes one wonder what the hell they are doing on a small indie label, no offence intended at Matinee. But the jangle-heavy pop seeps to the surface on the brilliant title track, toeing the line between New Order and the Smiths. Thirlwall gives just enough effort to make it work, but not much more, sounding rather monotonous in spots on the song. The tight guitar combination is another asset, with both playing off each other as the group rocks out for the first of a few instances. The movie Lost in Translation should've included this nugget! Taking a bit of steam out of the proceedings is "Footprints", a sparser and far tamer tune that has a slower Blur or the Housemartins vibe. The group isn't taking a rest here, but the dichotomy between this song and its predecessor shows the range the Windmills have. The slow building "Walking around the World" closely resembles something from U2's The Joshua Tree sessions, with the gorgeous military-like drumbeat and the guitar just accentuating Thirlwall's vocals. The deliberateness they give the song makes it all the more anthem material. "All roads seem to lead to me / What a funny place to be", Thirlwall sings with a hint of irony in his voice and minus Bono's bombastic nature. He leaves that to the band, all hitting the ground running with the payoff coming at its monumental end. But the album ebbs back again with the Cure-ish "Your Fingers and Mine", a very good song that still pales somewhat compared to others on the near dozen-track record. The second half of the record bristles with "Something Spring", a track that brings to mind "Sally Cinnamon" from the Stone Roses. Again the group is tight, but not enough to stifle any of the solos or musical highpoints. Possibly the only departure musically from the record is "Across the Playing Fields", with Thirlwall making high notes more often than not. The swaying and lush melody is excellent, although the slow dance tempo makes the arrangement flow. The bridge doesn't quite come off as spotless, but it's still able to keep you interested. The jam '70s ending leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth. "Amelia" is the first to divert from the pattern of fast-ditty-and-then-slow-ditty. Reeking of Nick Drake's lilt, the effort is pretty but seems stilted in some flowery areas. "Amelia, don't throw your reckless dreams away / You're going to need them one of these days", go the lyrics of this possibly one-take effort. One last urgent kick at the can comes in "Summer Snow", a rather polished pop rock number that takes a while to get inured to. Harking back to Joy Division or early New Order, the tune than moves into a style that Modern English perfected at one time. It is also the winding song on the record, moving from light alternative rock to heavy guitars and back. "Time Machine" ends it on a good note, more anthem-like foundations bringing the song to fruition. Talking about mundane things like going to a supermarket, the Windmills are able to create one magnificent nugget after another. If you like British pop, or just outstanding yet meticulous pop in general, do yourself a favor!   --Pop Matters
The Windmills come from Southend in coastal southeast England and they gigged around on the late 80s English indie scene, issuing a great 7" single. Then they went quiet for about 10 or 12 years before returning a couple years back. On the 11-track Now Is Then, Roy Thirlwall's baleful baritone sounds as great as ever and the band plays with a relaxed, unhurried confidence throughout. If you ever connected with records by The Smiths, Go-Betweens or Weather Prophets, you need to spin The Windmills.   --The Big Takeover Magazine
Regardless of the mood you are in, you know that you are listening to a quality recording as soon as you hear the first few bars of this soft and beautiful third album by the Windmills. However be warned, like most really good albums despite the fact that it is obviously worth listening to, it still needs several plays for its true worth to be appreciated. Comparisons to the Go-Betweens in particular are easy to make and perhaps should be avoided. This band has its own identity and collectively and individually Roy Thirlwall, Rob Clarke, Tony and Dan Pankhurst and have composed 11 very fine tracks each stamped with their own lush, laid back style. ‘Ever to Exist’ gets the album off to a fine start but the other three of Roy Thirlwall’s individual compositions are also very strong, particularly the title track itself and ‘Summer Snow’ actually provides a slightly harder edge, which the band handles just as competently as any of the other tracks. On the other hand the intriguingly titled group composition ‘Beach Girls 1918’ has all that a quality pop track needs without offending the listener by being too ‘catchy’. This is a great little album once you get to know it and this band have a lot of natural song writing and musical talent. Listening to it, inevitably makes you ask is their back catalogue as good and whether their obvious talent will continue to show through in future releases. Definitely worth more than just a listen.   --Friends of the Heroes
”Now is Then” is filled with lovely, straight forward songs embellished by singer Roy Thirlwall’s rich and mellow voice, reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen. The band has been prodigiously busy since starting in 1999. This release is their third full length album, they’ve also released a couple of EPs. The band seems to have a small but faithful group of followers and with more releases like this one, their fan base can only grow.   --Shredding Paper