Lost and Found

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Windsor for the Derby has traveled far from the abstract atmospherics and the mostly untitled ambient tracks of its first full-length record, 1996’s Calm Hades Float.

How We Lost, the band’s seventh album, released in May, is driven by a narrative, and though its title sounds defeatist, Dan Matz, one of the founders of WFTD, insists it’s anything but.

“It’s a celebration of how people survive from the things they have lost and how losing can be a positive,” Matz said during a break from a short European tour with dates in France and Spain.

How We Lost begins with “Let Go,” a song whose lyrics offer a salute to relinquishment: “Grab a hold of everything you know and let go/ Make a fast retreat from what follows/ Let go, let go.” And WFTD has not only let go of any attachment to maintaining a particular lineup but also has embraced an open approach to its musical direction. Though WFTD began as a largely instrumental post-rock outfit, the newest record finds the band leaving much of the “post” behind and moving steadily towards rock, incorporating more traditional verse-chorus-verse structures and experimenting less. In the dozen years since the group formed around Matz and Jason McNeely, both originally from Florida, WFTD has shifted its focus away from droning sparseness toward more exuberant pop.

“We met each other in junior high school in Tampa but were never a band there. I think I had to get out of Tampa in order to get anything creative done. There is a tremendous darkness there, and I think that’s why death metal is so big. I’ve moved around a bunch while Jason has mostly stayed rooted in Austin,” Matz said. “My seven years in Brooklyn saw me writing angular and dissonant love songs to nothing. I spent a few years in upstate New York and began focusing on more accessible pop sounds. Now I’ve been in Philly for a few years and those damn Gamble and Huff harmonies are slowly creeping in!”

Matz is referring to the Philadelphia soul pioneers and production team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and though How We Lost doesn’t sound like a soul record, it deftly demonstrates Matz’s affection for the craft of songwriting. While WFTD’s earliest albums were hypnotic and mesmerizing in their minimalism and repetition—and the vocals were sometimes seamlessly blended into layers of instrumentation—the dreamy vocals of How We Lost float on the surface. The lush “Maladies” reveals a pop bent with driving, upbeat percussion and jangling guitars, as does the shoegazey “What We Want,” with its delicate vocal harmonies atop a glittering wash of distortion. But the shimmering “Robin Robinette” and spare, echoing “Troubles” carry on the reflective mood of earlier records, which creates a sense of continuity with previous albums.

Matz and McNeely form the core of WFTD, and for this record, the lineup was fleshed out by Gianmarco Cilli, Charlie Hall and Matz’s wife, Anna Neighbor, along with a slew of guests, including members of the Philadelphia-based band The War on Drugs. They recorded in Matz’s home studio in Philadelphia, and because a vast distance divides Matz and McNeely, the process was arduous at times. In a post on the group’s blog, Matz mentioned that “it took us 3 years to get this record off,” and though the statement sounds like a lament, Matz said he’s grateful to be on a label, Secretly Canadian, that doesn’t rush him.

“Did I say ‘three years’ and ‘get this record off’? That sounds obscene,” Matz mused. “It took us a long time to complete the record because we have a great label [that] is not saying it has to be done by a certain date. It’s more important for us to have a complete record that we love than a record out by the Christmas holiday. I think it took a year and a half. It felt like five.”

But Matz’s new side project, The Silver Ages, a traditional men’s chorus that includes members of The Capitol Years, National Eye, The War on Drugs and Buried Beds, among others, and has backed Jens Lekman and Rogue Wave, may actually take more than five years to finish its first record, Matz said. “Charlie Hall, our drummer, had an idea to create a vocal group to work up some traditional harmonies. Most of the songs are from the turn of the last century, but we do throw in the occasional modern song,” Matz said. “It’s a very serious endeavor.  There are 12 people involved in getting some recording done, which takes some time—to get everyone’s schedules straight. If it took two of us [a year and a half] to complete How We Lost, you can do the math and figure out how long it’ll take twelve of us to complete something.”

Windsor for the Derby
Aug. 30, Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (at Ave. A), 212-260-4700; 7:30, $10. (Also Sept. 4 at Union Hall)

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