Words by Ricky
The name may suggest an underground Ambien-dealing drug collective, but I assure you, Sleep Experiments remains an innocent band of musicians. Their compositions rely on ambiance (without being an “ambient band”), acoustic guitar (without being an “acoustic band”), dreamy vocals and stomp box delays (without being a “shoegaze band”), and some mean songwriting chops (without being too mean). Their new LP is perhaps the best locally released album of the year. I’d even burn the LP of baby-bedtime-worthy-jams for my 4-month old niece had that measly FBI Anti-Piracy Warning not sneaked its way onto the back cover. C’mon, Feds…it’s Christmas!
It’s not easy being in Sleep Experiments. First off, 2/3 of the band members share identical first names (and the same last name initials). Let’s refer to them as Electric Phil (that is, Phil Johnson on electric guitar/vocals) and Acoustic Phil (Phil Jacoby—he plays acoustic guitar that usually doesn’t sound like an acoustic guitar) from here on out to avoid confusion. Problem solved. Next, let’s consider the group’s more-gentle, sweeping demeanor. They can’t compete with the clatter of beer glasses or house party drunks, since it only takes one loudmouth or dumb cell phone conversation to ruin the set. They substitute bar shows for enchanted stargazing parties (in barren swimming pools) and ballet troupe collaborations, and they probably played your friend’s art gallery opening at some point. Their delicate tunes require full attention, patience, and a silent setting (kinda like babysitting, right?)—in conclusion, they should only play giant cathedrals.
I’m a longtime fan–such a fan that I nearly pissed myself at the news of a full-length album in the works (I MAY HAVE been hammered at the time)! Recording commenced last year at J-Bird Studio (where Boca Chica, Horse or Cycle, Color Fleet, Armadillos and a bunch others recorded). After laying down some tracks, they stopped recording to raise funds for the final product–a smart, if not necessary move. They not only profited from extra months of Kickstarter-campaigning, but that time allowed additional rehearsals to perfect some song details. Kudos to everyone who donated to SE’s Kickstarter instead of funding for some zombie-inspired opera, or edible dog leash, or invisible mousetrap, or life-size Robocop statue (wait, I’m cool with the statue).
The band’s self-titled final product collects ethereal songs that may shed you some tears (avoid an embarrassing cryfest and DON’T hold a Sleep Experiments listening party with friends). Strap on some headphones, close your eyes, and allow the waves of reverb, keyboards, and delayed guitars on tracks like “Nervous” and “Dashed to Bits” to wash you away. You’ll feel like you’re swimming miles below the ocean–minus the terrible stomach cramps. The solipsistic world created slows life to a floating pace…far from life above water. By the album’s end it all feels like a dream–until you pick up your hat to discover the inside full of water and seaweed.
The album preludes with an epic a cappella intro fit for a “birth of the universe” segment for Terrance Malick’s next film. The intro then leads into “Out Stealing Horses.” Singer Morgan Stewart’s voice chimes overtop a rhythmic electric guitar line like a motherly angel armed with Death Cab for Cutie melodies at her disposal. We’re soon introduced to…DRUMS! DRUMS?! On a Sleep Experiments track!?? What’s next, Mimi Parker thrashing Reign in Blood double bass moves on the next Low album? I believe the quote is, “don’t spoil what you have by desiring what you have not,” which applies to this, since the band doesn’t have or need a drummer. The album’s other rhythmic trinkets mostly succeed though, including Electric Phil’s always-grooving beat-boxing/looping on “Dream Three” (my ears want more of that!)–just lose the acoustic drums.
Thanks in-part to producer J Vega, the album as a whole sounds incredible. So many favorite moments scatter the release: the long pause on “Dashed to Bits,” the lone piano line in “Down to the River,” Electric Phil’s subtle backing vocals in “Thief,” and Morgan’s singing throughout the whole thing. I have “Nervous” on repeat right now, and wow, new details emerge with every listen.
There is something to be said of the trio’s mature songwriting skills. Too many ambient/post-rock worshippers reuse the same Sigur Ros formula to boring effect–and who wouldn’t want to, what with all those upcoming Cameron Crowe film trailers to score, amirite? Most copycats barely attain the excitement of a Sigur Ros member’s skidmark, let alone their music. Sleep Experiments, on the other hand, treat influences as a springboard, and craft songs with their own distinct spin. They don’t overdo crescendos or try anything gimmicky. They instead focus on the essentials: songwriting, songwriting, and songwriting. If you suffer ADD-like symptoms, it may be a challenging listen, but clear your mind and this album works wonders.
Friday night celebrates the LP/CD release on the third floor of the Elks Lodge. Sorry, no Banjo Club that night (what a collaboration that would be), but Paul Zito and Ocean Icon will open the show! If you’re looking to rage, seek somewhere else. Stop by though for an evening of cool people, introspection, and maybe some tears. Oh…you say there’s something in your eye…again? Suuuure.
Sleep Experiments on the webz: