Sleepy Sun - Embrace
Kyle Ellison 16/06/2009
“Music doesn't always have to be fashionable!” I argued, jumping to the defence of Sleepy Sun's psychedelic debut Embrace.
It turns out my friend had been making an observational rather than a critical comment, yet my reaction is telling of the cultural position of the genre. Once a progressive movement concerned with forward thinking and reconstructing basic song structures, today's psychedelic music is often criticised for its over indulgence and predictability. While the guitar freak out might have been inventive in Hendrix's day, thousands of insipid reworkings later and it's become a limiting rather than a freeing musical component. But this isn't always the case. If properly phrased and controlled psychedelia can be as powerful as ever, as proved by modern counterparts such as Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops. So how do ATP's latest label darlings Sleepy Sun fare, with seven sprawling tracks that nestle nicely into the well trodden psychedelic mould?
Well, the band wastes no time in signalling their intent with opening track New Age, a hypnotic seven minutes of squealing guitars and drowsy vocals. What could easily have sounded like genre fodder, however, is heightened by an irresistible rhythm section that drives the song to its conclusion; each stabbing bass sound ringing like a confident stride towards its deafening climax. Importantly, the groove created by bass and drums keep Sleepy Sun focussed, refraining from lengthy jams and serving each songs individual purpose. Even the longest song on the record, White Dove, which comes close to being 10 minutes in length, is broken down into manageable chunks; evolving from heavy Kyuss inspired grooves to a much quieter folk finale.
Indeed, the band are equally engaging whether they're bashing out ballsy blues rock, or picking out more delicate folk tinged melodies. Second track, Lord, for example, sees lead singer Bret Constantino at first singing over soothing piano before progressing into a haunting mixture of eerie guitars and distant vocal shrieks. Elsewhere the albums closer, Duet With The Northern Sky, is a simple stripped down ballad, featuring gorgeous dual vocals from Constantino and sometime singer Rachel Williams, which completes the bands range from the devastatingly loud to the tender and soft.
Although Embrace certainly exceeds expectations, a typical mid album lull prevents it from really making a mark. Golden Artefact, for example, patters along at casual pace and fizzles out before really offering anything, while similarly Sleepy Son builds beautifully but never reaches the climax it deserves. But for a record which draws positives from turning psychedelia into something concise and digestible, it's perhaps unfair to criticise it for occasionally being too restrained. After all, it is precisely this which so many other bands fail to do, leaving their rough drafts of songs unedited and tiresome as a result. With Embrace, Sleepy Sun have produced an album that is unashamedly psychedelic, yet at the same time resists the usual pitfalls of the genre.