Album Reviews

Sleepy Sun – Spine Hits

(ATP) UK release date: 9 April 2012

Sleepy Sun - Spine Hits Imagine it’s 1975. No. Wait. 1976. You’re a contented teen in the muggy-plotted haze of Richard Linklater’s endearing zeit-pic, Dazed and Confused. Flares and mullets abound. Your life is a perpetual keg-party debate about Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and all kinds of long-haired whatnot. The rock-addled dregs of your brain ponder nothing but proggy notions about existence, bongs and vinyl. Life is good.

This is not what Sleepy Sun sound like. Because now you’re 41. John Bonham’s dead, Ozzy’s second fiddle to some wrinkled termagant called Sharon, and the last time you heard a track of full-bodied guitar rock on the radio it was The Darkness yammering away about their festive bellends. You’re working invoice processing and data reconciliation for a mid-sized multinational and the closest you get to a keg party is a four pack of Kestrel afore a wilted Peter Frampton doc on History HD.

This is what Sleepy Sun sound like. With Embrace, their 2009 debut, the San Franciscans staked out a little corner of the burgeoning nostalgia market with an adequately revisionist take on the Zeppelin-era rock canon. They remixed psychedelia with acoustics and a semi-stoned Californian sway, and delivered a record of mild charms and surprising depths – attributes they’ve roundly abandoned with Spine Hits, their third, and most lukewarm effort.

What was, in their early days, delicious in its languor is now turgid and inert, struggling for hooks with only the most tepid sense of melody. Tracks like Stivey Pond and Siouxsie Blaqq lumber by in a churning fugg of guitar fuzz and general dirge – they’re a few time signatures short of rocking out, and an endless imagination away from the psych-meanderings they seem to crave. Creature exerts a wilful poverty of pace, while Yellow End struggles to move beyond a brattish squawk and a number of ponderous choruses. Sleepy Sun haven’t lost the alluring gravitas of the Bret Constantino / Jack Allen combo – that gravelly vocal over sonorous bass – but you yearn for them to push their strengths, to seek something bolder. And yet – and tragically yet – when they do, as on the closer, Lioness (Requiem), they seem to be seeking a scale they can’t imagine; to be basking in a grandeur they haven’t earned.

The mood is lightened with some peppy riffage on Martyr’s Mantra – plus a touch of Alex Turner styling on the vocal (a nod to their recent tour as support for the Arctic Monkeys); and there’s more than an echo of the The Stone Roses too, with the guitar a John Squire tremolo, and the bass a Mani-esque tremble. And then, just once, on Still Sleeping, the moody deliberations hold muster. In a dreamy, beleaguered ode we see the best of Constantino: the travelling soul, full of weary loves and hazy, husky fondness; full of the grizzled depth that, throughout the album, you keep hoping to glimpse.

For this one track, Spine Hits begs attention. But don’t look there for more – look instead to Sleepy Sun’s early days. Because for a troupe on album three, they really should do better.

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More on Sleepy Sun
Sleepy Sun – Maui Tears
Sleepy Sun – Spine Hits
Sleepy Sun – Fever
Sleepy Sun – Embrace