Thomas Wincek’s discography, primarily with Collections of Colonies of Bees as well as recent project Volcano Choir, is one of texture and aesthetic. In each of these bands, Wincek has revealed both a stunning and serene post-rock ideal funneled through prog-rock majesty and modern classical abstraction. One doesn’t so much listen to these artists as get lost in their numerous, overlapping sonic layers. Even vocals, as heard on Volcano Choir’s Unmap, aren’t used so much in the interest of giving literal voice to the music as being another instrument woven into the songs’ fabric.
With his newest band All Tiny Creatures, Wincek, along with Andrew Fitzpatrick, Ben Derickson and Matthew Skemp, maintains that richly layered and warmly glowing conflation of musical approaches and wraps them in delightfully askew pop compositions. Following an instrumental EP and two “mixtapes” released during the winter, debut album Harbors is the fruit borne from a long build-up of ideas and concepts, expanding from a one-man demo project to a fully realized band, and ultimately one with a revolving cast of collaborators adding a patch of their own unique fabric to the band’s quilt.
A wide number of sonic signposts pop up throughout Harbors‘ 11-track journey, from Neu!’s pulsing motorik rhythms to Steve Reich’s minimalism, or at the band’s most accessible, the breezy and gorgeous pop of Chicago veterans The Sea and Cake. It’s an atypical pop album to say the least, and one that very rarely revisits the same idea twice. There are no fewer than eight guest vocalists on the album, and seemingly just as many different approaches to pop composition. And some tracks, such as the brief, minimal electronic piece “Valves or Hatches,” aren’t really pop songs at all, yet nonetheless create an intriguing and aesthetically, if not stylistically, consistent sonic thread.
Conceived as an instrumental group, All Tiny Creatures have seemingly few creative limitations, and are unbound by a lead vocalist. Certainly, the group has its leader, Wincek, but as the orchestrator of the project, he works toward finding a harmonic convergence between various gorgeous, sometimes overwhelming elements, rather than standing in front of them. He lends his vocals to the blissfully twinkling “Aviation Class,” as well as the wordless leadoff track “Holography,” but both are more about the convergence of organic and electronic sounds into a dense and spiraling whole. Yet when the band teams up with other vocalists, All Tiny Creatures transforms from stunning, aesthetically minded collective to a transcendent vision of pop’s future. The biggest name here is Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who lends his effects-addled croon to upbeat pulser “An Iris,” while “Glass Bubbles,” featuring 12 Rods/Mystery Palace’s Ryan Olcott, goes one better, graduating from Krautrock-inflected pop to something akin to The Field performed with a full band arrangement. It’s absolutely breathtaking. And all three members of Megafaun contribute to “Tine Feature,” their Beach Boys-like harmonies bringing a strange and joyful feeling to the rollicking and bouncy highlight.
All Tiny Creatures’ intense focus on aesthetics isn’t confined merely to the music, but the visual package as well. Harbors‘ cover, designed by Aaron Draplin, depicts various circular clusters of colorful objects that seem to create the perfect visual representation of the band’s strange yet beautiful compositions. Each component is intriguing on its own, but they all seem to create something bigger and more impressive when conjoined. It’s something quite special to hear all of the pieces fit just right.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.