Californian rockers Sleepy Sun have described their own sound as “feedback-laden psychedelic rock from the back streets of San Francisco, edgy music that goes down like cheap whiskey from a dirty glass”. With earlier material often built around the heavy riffage of stoner rock, the path of evolution for the five-piece has seen them heading towards the mellower, ‘stoned beyond your senses’ meanderings of more common modern psychedelia.
The tepidly received third album Spine Hits arrived in 2012, leaving the impression that they had all but burnt themselves out. 2010 had been a big year and similar highs began to look ever less likely. Support slots for Arctic Monkeys and the acclaim attributed to second album Fever were major highlights, but this was counter-balanced by the departure of co-lead vocalist and founder member Rachel Fannan, the male/female vocal duets being one of the main attractions of both Fever and their 2009 debut Embrace.
In August 2013 the band premiered a new song, 11:32, which was subsequently released in October along with The Lane. 11:32 starts off with screeching guitar feedback before a stoner rock riff bursts forth from the cloudy haze. There are heavier touches throughout, as Bret Constantino’s swirling vocals sweep in and out between the doom-like majesty of the music. Album opener The Lane is a less weighty number, with chiming guitars that unexpectedly recall Big Country introducing the song before echo-drenched vocals appear, again interspersed between bursts of guitar noise. The song benefits from drastic changes of direction, with mellow laid back floating sections providing and some gorgeously melodic e-bow sounding guitar passages blending together to form an impressive start.
In contrast, gentle acoustic plucking brings Words to life before more reverb-heavy vocals, guitar fuzz and pounding tribal drums add the dark, doomy element to an otherwise tranquil listen, but also one that would have been perfect for Fannan’s contrasting harmonies. Everywhere Waltz is a slow and uneventful six-minute trip through a psychedelic haze of fuzz that represents one of the lesser tracks here, before Outside takes over with more laid back mellowness akin to some Pink Floyd moments, its strength lying in the floaty ethereal vocals. Slowdown also takes on this approach, with lazy guitar lines punctuating a constant keyboard drone and falsetto harmonies to provide another drifting in space moment.
But the strength of the band is undeniably when they rock out. Another of these tracks appears in the shape of Thielbar, subtle guitar introducing the track before one of the more memorable vocal harmonies takes shape. With its heavier, increased tempo sections that benefit from thunderous fuzz-heavy guitar, the track impresses before reaching a majestic space-rocky climax.
The short Galaxy Punk is another hugely satisfying pinch of stone-rock tinged psychedelia, its glorious guitar riff being a particular album highlight. But everything that’s gone before adds up, in some ways, to a mere prelude to the 10 minute album closer. A moody bass line provides the basis for the slow burning gem, while touches of guitar and whispered vocals flitter in and out. A thumping Black Sabbath-like riff then appears out of nowhere before the serenity returns; the lengthy monotony of this epic track is then furnished with scrawling guitars soaked in reverb, albeit fleetingly, with the overwhelming vibe of the track being something like a laid back Marquee Moon.
This all points to Sleepy Sun bouncing back strongly after the disappointment of Spine Hits. Occasionally there are moments of insignificance amongst the rocking gems and although these fall short of the band’s best tracks here, the contrast is another element that will likely add longevity to the album as a whole.