Sensory Overload: Winter Makes Sailors

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Sean Gardner is a man of many bands, and Winter Makes Sailors is a band of many faces. I caught a glimpse of the latest guise Sunday at The Treehouse.

Gardner has been stepping on Columbus stages since the late '90s, racking up an impressive rock resume including stints with Denovo, Kopaz, Melty Melty, The Kyle Sowashes, Bookmobile and The Receiver. Those acts are varying degrees of awesome, but each one is either a two-parent household or a chance for Gardner to play cool uncle to somebody else's baby.

Winter Makes Sailors has always been Gardner's most individualistic endeavor - sometimes so individualistic that Gardner was the only player on stage. It's also been his most elastic, evolving almost beyond recognition from one iteration to the next.

The old recording of "Take Me West" on MySpace is airy, delicate and riddled by subtle noise quirks, evoking The Wrens at their tamest and the intimate headspace of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Last year, Gardner surrounded his soft-edged tenor with enough jolt and twang to qualify Winter Makes Sailors as an honest-to-god country band.

The common bonds have always been Gardner's keen melodic intellect and the deep sense of yearning that colors his songwriting. Those remained intact in the sprightly indie-pop quintet that appeared Sunday.

Gardner did himself a solid by bringing in Brett Helling to play lead guitar. The former Cabdrivers frontman and his sizable pedal board lent a rollicking edge to lively pop tunes that otherwise came off a bit vanilla on this night.

After the show they handed out a three-song sampler from upcoming album "Moving On" stacked with rich arrangements and evocative lyrics. It's beautifully breezy pop melancholia just in time for summer, something Columbus needs since a Tiara reunion looks unlikely any time soon.

Sunday's show felt a bit flimsy, though. The more whimsical, energetic selections lacked punch, as if the band wasn't in sync enough to really nail each number. All the ingredients were there; they just didn't fully gel until the final song.

That song, though, was downright incredible - a swaying slow jam in the vein of vintage Winter Makes Sailors that bloomed into a sweeping emotional release. It was loud, expansive and quite promising for this band's future.