The Brooklyn duo Winter Family packs a two-ton punch with little more than meditative keyboard drifts and delicate vocals. A Crown Heights collaboration between Israeli vocalist Ruth Rosenthal and Parisian pianist Xavier Klaine, their second album Red Sugar (out now via Sub Rosa) is an intense meditation on the small things in the shadow of the big things. Winter Family’s songs touch on topics like war and religious zealotry; the lyrics—English, French and Hebrew—are delivered in whispers and conversations in the candlelit cabaret vein of Nico or Diamanda Galas or Antony. Brittle pianos or velvety harmonium create twinkles and warmth—every track feels like it could crumble, presumably because the world can. Album highlight “Shooting Stars” includes tender divebombs of vocal drone that wrestle with microtones, and more haunting French segments where you can hear the glottals tossing around in her mouth over Klaine’s curtain of piano pulse.
What is “Shooting Stars” about?
Ruth Rosenthal, vocals: The song is about the fragility of “real” life. Especially for a little girl. With so much danger around, we—or I, or another woman who was once a little girl, or anyone else for that matter—try to find ways to survive by our imagination and by the help of fairy tales and nature. It’s an escapist song in the good meaning of the word.
Xavier Klaine: It is about a little girl from my family.
Rosenthal: The song for me was like a present for that little girl.
What was it like to record the long vocal drones?
Rosenthal: The song was done and recorded in two hours, so there was no much thought about those cries; it just went out from the heart. Like a shooting star, I guess. However, when we started performing with the song I was pregnant and I knew my baby will move whenever we get to these shouts.
You recorded this album in Paris and Jerusalem and Omaha Beach. Where did you record “Shooting Stars”?
Rosenthal: The song was recorded live in our place in Paris, it’s the only track in the album we recorded there.
Klaine: It was probably one of the most special session of this record. We did it in two hours, from improvisation to final record. It was warm and wet outside, we were very sad… but also very happy cause we just learned that Ruth was pregnant. Strange afternoon.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
Klaine: St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, pipe organ & priest’s mic. It’s an amazing church and we performed our secular mess [inside]. Ruth fixed the sound system of the church one hour before we performed, now they have stereo—but I’m not sure they ever realized it.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Crown Heights?
Klaine: Our friend Miki Carmi introduced us to the Yemenite restaurant exactly in front the Trader Joe’s on Court Street. The best restaurant of NYC by far. OK, it is not Crown Heights.
Rosenthal: Egyptian falafel in our street corner—Bergen St. at Classon Ave. Best way to break your gluten-free diet.
Winter Family plays tomorrow at the Suffolk with Bee and Flower, Sondra Sun-Odeon and Leyna Marika Papach.