Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player, the smart sphone, or the laptop computer – they just make them a cut above everyone else. Sleepy Sun is a band that produces a product in a similar fashion to Apple. They didn’t invent blues-based psychedelic rock, they are not the first band to incorporate multiple transitions within a song, and indeed reverb and hallucinatory effects have existed for generations prior to their formation. Sleepy Sun just plays this brand of music is a superior way. Originality isn’t their goal – sensational music is.
Sleepy Sun’s new album is Fever. It unabashedly continues in the pattern of their first album, Embrace, in that it is filled 60’s harking, San Francisco-friendly, dynamically changing psychedelic-rock music. Yet on this album there also exists a subtle undertone of a contemporary indie sound, just slightly at times, that wasn’t as present on their first album.
The album kicks off with “Marina,” an unhurried number that unravels with wailing guitars and rarefied male & female vocals laden with reverb, becoming slightly heavier and then lighter in sound, while always maintaining a subdued tempo. Then mid-way through the song all the vocals and guitar drop and in enters an almost samba-like multi-layered percussive beat, before harmonious lyrics sung with gusto surface. Then just before the guitars return, as the tempo falls, we reemerge back into the wailing blues-psych. It is classic Sleepy Sun.
This band has the unique ability (which they utilize often) of being able to slow their momentum and tempo abruptly, only to then transition this movement – which appears to be a diminution of energy – into a thick and intense musical impetus that is wonderfully ponderous and contains more verve than before the transition began. This musical philosophy is akin to one attempting to slow a towboat by abruptly turning off its engines – only to find oneself smashed forward by the heavy load that is in-tow. Using a reduction in tempo as a means to increase the force of music is an impressively difficult musical tool. This trait is exemplified best on this album within “Wild Machines”, “Desert God” and the aforementioned song, “Marina”.
But the transitional talent of Sleepy Sun doesn’t rest solely upon tempo/energy variations, as it extends also into complete genre transformation. But it’s not just that they will seemingly jump genres mid-song, plenty of bands attempt such maneuvers, it is that in the end these substantial alterations come off as a natural and expected occurrence. Transitions for Sleepy Sun feel as little like a transition as possible, even when making 180 degree turns.
Yet while Fever contains numerous examples of Sleepy Sun’s ability for melodious movements within a single song, they also showcase their ability to play more traditional “steady songs”. On “Ooh Boy” we hear a pleasant, slow-moving acoustic-psych song highlighted by beautiful male & female vocal interactions. “Acid Love” contains slightly discernable optimistic sounds awash underneath broodingly heavy & dark sounds; as voices just barely rise above, then sink quickly again, into the consistent sonic abyss. In the song “Rigamaroo” we encounter a consistently midtempo song, which focused on beautifully intricate acoustic guitar and simple call-and-response like vocals to make for a very absorbing number.
When it comes to the vocals on Fever, Sleepy Sun again employs a simple technique that endows them with the ability to run the full gamut of the vocal-emotional spectrum. They use both a female and male vocalist in a multitude of manners. Often they mix angel-like “dry” female vocals with wide-reverb’ed female vocals, which is then at times combined with more “grounded” male vocals – which was accomplished wonderfully on “Open Eyes”. And often, like on “Acid Love,” they combine the vocalists’ voices perfectly succinctly so as to create a novel and singular voice that sounds neither male nor female. Sleepy Sun, due again to a simple – yet mastered – approach has a pretty much limitless vocal potential, a fact that they take advantage of well.
To describe the music of Fever in a way that references the canon of psychedelic rock, they take on the non-volume-based spacey intensity of Pink Floyd, with the fierce bluesy-grittiness & song progression of Led Zeppelin, with a vocal styling quasi-similar to that of Jefferson Airplane. Yet this basic description is also unfair, because their music is also wholly unique, as well as being of the current generation. It’s in the industrial screech of the breakdown on “Wild Machines,” the quick and witty percussion employed on “Open Eyes,” and within the gritty bass groove on “Freedom Lines” that one can hear that while this bands feet are firmly in the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s, they are still a contemporary indie band.
Fever does not contain one sub-par song, and while there are technically only 9 songs, it feels like more when one listens to the album in full (the 9 minute “Sandstorm Woman” being the best example of this). Rarely does a band release an album that this author wouldn’t change a thing about – Sleepy Sun has now done it twice. The musicianship on Fever is superb, the engineering is wonderfully balanced and surreally intriguingly throughout, and the song writing is simply extraordinary. If you enjoy psychedelic music, or blues-based rock n’ roll, then this album (preferably on wax) is one that absolutely needs to find its way into your collection.
By Sean Brna