Sleepy Sun, Embrace

Sleepy Sun, Embrace

I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting, but I know this wasn’t it. I think I could be forgiven, though, for being blindsided by Sleepy Sun’s Embrace, especially considering the way the band shifts gears partway in. The album starts off with the thumping, dark, nearly funky murk-croon of “New Age,” with its nice, almost tribal percussion, woozy acoustic/electric guitars, creepy organ, and distant, singing-in-an-empty-room vocals coming off like some bizarre crossbreed between the Sneaker Pimps and Clinic, and then segues smoothly into the similarly slow-paced, gorgeous “Lord,” which is gentle and pastoral while remaining electrified and dark, like a funhouse-mirror version of The Verve. “Red/Black” signals a bit of what’s to come, with a crunching/plodding pace, carnival-ride rhythms, and fuzzed-out guitars.

Embrace doesn’t fully hit its stride, though, ’til halfway through, with “Sleepy Son.” It’s a bona-fide monster of a song, a constantly-shifting behemoth that starts quiet and distant and metamorphosizes into thundering, thick-ass sludgy rawk with alternately tough and whispery female vocals; it’s like the soundtrack to a night spent stumbling in a daze from one badly-lit, questionable dive to another, and right when you think it’s due to end, the song staggers onward, getting more chaotic and belligerent as it goes.

“White Dove,” a bit further in, takes a similar tack, with heavy-as-lead, distorted, almost metallic guitars (including some real-live rock-dude soloing) and a White Stripes-esque stomp providing the engine to drive home a blast of thundering, fist-pumping rock. It dissolves into a weird bit of muttered vocals and off-beat drum hits at the halfway mark, only to come back blazing even hotter/louder before collapsing again into bare-bones acoustic guitars and shaker. In between, “Golden Artifact” heads off in a slightly different direction, incorporating some folk elements for a gentle ramble across a mysterious country with some Beta Band-esque vocals along for the ride.

The whole damn thing’s an exercise in slow-build dynamics, rising and crashing so organically, so methodically, that you barely notice the climax ’til it’s right on top of you. There’s a nightmarish, late-night feel to everything here, all dark hues and uncertainty; it’s not scary, in the horror-flick sense, but it’s definitely murky as hell, and more than a little mysterious and foreboding. Listening, I feel like there’s something bad lurking right around the corner, just out of view.

After “White Dove,” I truthfully figured the album could end — my jaw was already on the floor, and I felt shaken and beaten-down by the pummeling guitars and that fuzzy-round-the-edges, syrupy bass that rolls on throughout the album (seriously, I haven’t heard bass this thick and solid and, well, demanding since Superfuzz Bigmuff, or at least since the last Federation X disc). Sleepy Sun keeps on, though, mining the intro to “Come Together” for the start of “Snow Goddess” before drifting along in a pot-smoke haze until the vocals rise to a crescendo and the whole thing explodes.

Embrace closes out, thankfully, with a bit of a come-down track; “Duet With The Northern Sky” turns the volume down and ditches the distortion in favor of delicate, countrified guitars and slightly backwoodsy duet (obviously) vocals. Where the rest of the album is a drunken, sleepy, paranoiac stagger through darkened streets and past blurry neon lights, “Duet” is the sound of the next day’s sunrise, coming up calm, safe, and clear over the trees and buildings to signal that everything’s done and you can breathe easy again.

[Sleepy Sun is playing 9/2/09 at The Orange Show, along with My Education.]
(ATP Recordings --; Sleepy Sun --
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Review by . Review posted Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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