Put up your hand if you’ve ever been nervous about a new release. You know, where you like the band’s current work and you’re hoping you’ll like the new stuff as much or more than the old stuff. Expectation and anticipation have a huge influence on how we respond, and I don’t think I’m alone amongst those who have seen sleepmakeswaves live a few times in hoping the new album would capture more of their live power. Their debut album, EP and split EP are very good, make no mistake, but three more years of playing songs together has left those songs somewhat in the band’s wake as their sound has evolved on stage. So does “love of cartography” measure up? Yes. Yes it does.
The instrumental rock quartet from Sydney has worked its way into the upper part of that limbo world between part time musicians with day jobs, and musicians who can actually live off playing original music. Whether an Australian band playing a small genre can go that next step will play out in the months and years ahead, but they have given themselves the best chance they can at this stage. Mind you that kind of success is not the apparent focus of their endeavours, which seem instead to be simply writing and playing as well as they can while keeping expectations in check.
Having raised $30K through crowd funding, they set about finding a producer to work with composer, bassist and laptopist Alex Wilson and settled on Nick DiDia at Studios 301, who has a history of recording and mixing the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, and mixing and producing Australian favourites Karnivool, Powderfinger and The Living End. The impact this choice has had is impossible to ignore. It’s easy to imagine yourself standing near the stage at The Evelyn Hotel, hearing Otto Wicks-Green on guitar to the left as Jonathan ‘Kid’ Khor picks away on the right. Ahead Alex Wilson is pacing around with his bass and fiddling with his laptop, and solid in the centre are the drums of Tim Adderly in a Donkey Kong tee shirt. You can pick out the instruments at will, but the mix will push forward the individuals at different times as the melodies and layers are shared around. There can be a tendency for instrumental rock albums to sound like they forgot the vocal track, but as is the case with sleepmakeswaves live, this sounds like singers were never invented.
Opening track ‘perfect detonator’ signals a greater use of laptop, or at least more pronounced. Wilson has a deep interest in electronic music and during the band’s formation had wanted them to combine strong rock and electronic elements, but was beaten to the punch by 65daysofstatic. I get the impression he’s close to finding his signature glitch sounds and that confidence allows them to push the electronic elements forward without being concerned about sounding like the Sheffield band. Starting with cracking drums and a wall of guitar and riffs it quickly falls onto itself to gallop along a little slower before building once again, dropping again, and building again. It’s not a slow burn crescendocore but the orgasmic moments are still there. And fuck I love the drums in this. They are solid and even enough that you don’t get just one tom or the snare yelling out, but not so even that there’s no personality and sitting at the back of the room. If you’re not airdrumming like a mad bastard by the half way point, then call your Doctor and get immediate help. This is ripe for being a fantastic set opener, and if you saw the band in the last 12 months you probably heard this under the working title of “Fat Guy”.
Another song you probably heard if you saw them, and was in their support set for Karnivool, is the next track ‘traced in constellations’, formerly known as ‘Kid Song’. Both heavy as treacle and light as a feather there’s a lot of subtlety here but it’s not full of itself. This is above all straight up, good, heavy rock. The song lifts you and carries you to a short droney interlude that sounds like a giant running his moistened finger around an enormous wine glass. I’m still a bit unsure how badly this is needed in the flow, but the unsettling effect leads to the stunning ‘emergent’, which is the most studio-sounding track on the album and won’t be making an appearance during the current tour. The intention with the record was to be able to reproduce the songs live without losing anything, as happens when sleepmakeswaves play ‘a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, which loses trumpet and the closing minutes, or ‘one day you will teach me to let go of my fears’ which loses violin. ‘Emergent’ is going to take a little longer to prepare for display without any of this sort of compromise, but it will be a crowd favourite when it does appear.
The album never dwells in one place too long and while hugely dynamic, heavy and at times introspective and slower, it’s a rather happy and uplifting affair. It’s not Disney but nor does it reach the levels of bleakness you find in a lot of post rock and post metal. This is no “Tunnel Blanket”, “Twelve Hundred Times” or “Wild Light”. In this context a song like ‘a little spark’ is a hopeful, reflective, and cleansing passage rather than the sad melancholy it could be, and it leads to the crescendos and intense tremolo of ‘how we built the ocean’, yet another track you may have heard them play in the last few months, in this case as ‘Freshmaker’.
You can expect to hear up to seven tracks off the album during their current tour, but closer ‘your time will come again’ is not one of them, which isn’t really a problem because it feels better here than I imagine it would live. It’s a beautiful track just perfect for nodding off to under a tree on a warm autumn evening with a smile on your face and a friend in your arms.
Sleepmakeswaves have come out swinging with their sophomore effort. At the peak of their genre in this country, they have an album which is unmistakably sleepmakeswaves with no radical departure composition wise, but with a sound that brings a dimension that was previously reserved for their live performances. This is world class.