Winter Vacation

The Netherlands, 1980

(Asaurus; 2005)

By David Greenwald | 24 January 2008

It’s hard to say what makes a truly important album. A boundary-pushing producer? A multinational set of global influences? Being Canadian? Long story short: I love Winter Vacation. Is it great like M.I.A. or Sleater-Kinney? Probably not. But that hasn’t stopped me (and won’t stop you) from thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

The Netherlands, 1980 is what Built To Spill’s first few albums would’ve sounded like if BTS was fronted by Phil Elvrum, back before he added the “e” to his name and started taking his extended metaphors really, really seriously. Winter Vacation is one guy, David Yourdon, and this is his second record. It shows: the songwriting is strong and the album lacks any real blemishes, but even the most well-crafted track can barely restrain Yourdon’s joyful, almost naïvely enthusiastic approach to performance. Making music seems to be very new and fresh for him, and songs such as “Rained On Together” and “The Greenest Age” sound as if they’re being sung through an ear-to-ear grin.

There’s a reason why Elvrum avoids singing pop songs – high and yelpy, despite its proliferation among lo-fi vocalists, isn’t always as endearing in practice as it is on paper. Yourdon makes the most of his voice, though, and he manages to stay away from whine, if not always cheese. The album seems to be a travelogue (playing off of the Vacation moniker, obv.), as revealed by a glance at the titles (“Sightseeing,” “The Alps,” “On A Ski Slope”). What’s he doing in Europe? “It seems I’ve fallen in the wrong path,” he sings on “World Color War,” and he opens the album by wondering “is it worth the time, sightseeing?”

If Yourdon is feeling introspective, the music is never too blue. Production-wise, the album is off-kilter and warm, full of guitar melodies and obliging drumming. The occasional inclusion of an unexpected instrument – like the keyboard that adds bite to “Walk Signs,” or the piano that slips unnoticed into “Life Imitates Arthur” – adds a little color to the songs, but Yourdon fares just as well strumming his guitar on the buoyant “My Country Friends” or the folky “Upstate Estate.”

The Netherlands, 1980 is not an awe-inspiring album. It’s a little sloppy, a little silly, and it’s not produced by Dave Fridmann or Isaac Brock. That being said, it’s sincere, catchy and completely adorable. After a long year of trying to keep up with the hype, that’s more than enough to win me over.