Who are these people?
That’s the question that sprang to mind at the beginning of Fresh Snow’s EP, WON. Covering a wide, unpredictable range, it changes from droning, noise-rock guitar to cinematic strings and jazzy horn blasts. And that’s just the first track.
WON, Fresh Snow’s sophomore album (not including single releases), is mostly instrumental, a genre that probes the mystery of authorship more than most. Lacking human voices and the words that express their meaning, instrumental music leaves us only with gestures to convey idea, genre, and ultimately, an image of its creator. But, as the opener “King Twink Rides Again” shows, and the rest of the album emphasizes, the music here doesn’t clarify the image—it complicates it.
Fresh Snow is like a boggart, that monster in Harry Potter that changes shape to resemble the worst fear of its viewer—only instead of fears, this music shifts its shape according to sonic influences. Depending on the moment and the listener, the album can sound like krautrock, metal, avant-garde, or even pop. Between the four members of the band and their diverse tastes (Andy Lloyd on bass and keys, Brad Davis on guitar and keys, Jon Maki on drums, and Tim Condon on keys and various other things), odds are that someone has listened to it and allowed it to seep in. Formed in a dive bar in Toronto, Fresh Snow was born from improvisation, which might explain the unexpected shapes that settle after the boggart stops whirling.
On an album full of contrasts, one of the starkest—the boggart before and after the riddikulus charm, if you will (I’m done with the embarrassingly specific Harry Potter references now, I promise)—is between the two songs with vocals. “Proper Burial,” the second track, features Carmen Elle of DIANA, whose pretty yet haunting voice carries a clean melody over a bouncy bass line. Though the band’s darker tendencies eventually dilute the sweetness with droning guitars and a clanging sound that brings to mind heavy machinery moving in a large factory, it is still the album’s most accessible, pop-oriented tune.
Singing returns in a much different form on the final song (a sprawling, almost 11-minute piece) when, at around the 4:45 mark, guest vocalist Damian Abraham lets out the scream that he has honed to perfection in his band Fucked Up. Screaming is not my favorite device in music, to be honest, but set over tightly repetitive chord progressions with an interlude of some shimmering strings, the gritty cry of “It melts away” exudes an earnestness that quickly won me over.
All of WON delivers on its title, for that matter. Often confounding but always intriguing, Fresh Snow is never exactly what you expect. For a band that sometimes wears masks while performing, the question of cementing a picture in your mind is irrelevant and likely impossible. What’s more important is that Fresh Snow compels you to keep trying.