Winter Hours, the third full-length effort from The Deep Dark Woods, is aptly titled. Like the season for which it's named, the record is both strikingly beautiful and profoundly depressing, as the Saskatoon alt-county troubadours are hyper-visual storytellers who spin vivid tales of sadness, loss and loneliness.
"We were inspired by a lot of old folk music about hangings and such," guitarist Burke Barlow says over the phone from his home in Saskatoon. "Old murder ballads about breakups and having no money. The storytelling influence comes from that."
With that in mind, it would be easy to assume that Winter Hours is a product of the frozen, desolate Prairies, but the album was actually recorded on the West Coast, at Vancouver's famed The Factory. The band - which includes Ryan Boldt (vocals), Chris Mason (bass) and Lucas Goetz (drums) - enlisted the ears of Juno-award winning producer Steve Dawson, who helped bring out a different side of the Woods.
"We didn't really have a vision when we went to record it," Barlow, 25, says. "We talked to Steve the night before we went into the studio, and he suggested that we do it as live as possible.
"I think the overall sound is a bit folkier than our last one, which had a lot to do with Steve," he continues. "I was interested in what he'd be like to work with because he mixed our last record. But he was great - there wasn't a whole lot of talk."
Winter Hours may have a folk singer's soul, but it still has the rock 'n' roll heart that garnered the band a 2008 Western Canadian Music Award for its 2007 sophomore outing, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me. Released in February, Winter Hours is tinged with Americana and alt-country, and has the kind of gritty, rough-around-the-edges sound that would make Neil Young proud. Lyrically, The Deep Dark Woods paint in shades of grey and blue, but there's a hopefulness to the album; spring will come and the sun will shine again.
It's hard to believe that a record so textured is the result of a quick 'n' dirty recording session.
"We weren't sure if two weeks would be enough time, but it was more than enough," Barlow says. "It was pretty low-stress. We actually played a lot of video games."