Sometimes, in my spare time, I like to imagine what members of various bands would sound like together. You see, I’m a music geek, and that’s just fine with me. So when I’m not doing a million other more important things, I’ll try to mentally conjure up the sound of, say, Jeff Tweedy making an album with Johnny Marr. Would they make the greatest folk recordings of all time or just third-rate Stereolab songs? Or maybe I’ll ponder Thom Yorke collaborating with the Edge; would they sound like U2 cannibalizing themselves or something altogether different? I know what you’re thinking—what a momentous waste of time. You’re absolutely right, but I’m not much for fantasy football, so this is my own nerdy way of putting the best “players” together, if only in my head. Lately, with Bob Pollard dismantling GBV and embarking on a solo career, I’ve been fantasizing about his future musical partnerships. What might happen if the mercurial madman of music got together with Wayne Coyne (circa 1990) and they invited the guys from Mercury Rev over for a jam session? Besides a whole lot of egos clashing in a room, some interesting music might come out of the meeting.
There are moments on Sleepykid’s debut album, Monday Morning Smile, that sound like such a collaboration. Guitar riffs march with bravado, vocals warble and tenderly ache, cryptic lyrics abound, drums pop like Black Cats, eerie piano notes echo through the din…and this is all within the first few songs. Once again, I know what you’re thinking—a new band cannot possibly encapsulate so many A-list influences. And once again, you’re absolutely right. Such comparisons only serve as reference points for the unacquainted reader, not as exact descriptions. Still, there are distinct similarities between Sleepykid’s songs and each of these artists. Monday Morning Smile was partially recorded at home, so the production often sounds deliberately raw and slightly muffled, much like early GBV; likewise, some of the songs are actually fragments of ideas presented as compelling works in themselves. Moreover, Andrej Cuturic, Sleepykid’s lead singer and maestro, sings in a mixture of high-pitched quavers and dreary deadpans, much like Coyne before he adopted his Neil Young-inhaling-helium sound. And like Mercury Rev, strings are used not to create erudite soundscapes, but to paint surreal and puckish backgrounds.
Besides, Sleepykid isn’t actually a new band—at least not 100%. Hailing from Cleveland, the band includes several members of the now defunct Revelers, a band that included Sleepykid members Cuturic, Matt Charboneau, Joel Kaufman, and Chris Klasa. While there are additional members, the core of the band has been playing together since 1989, the year in which the Revelers formed. During their decade-long tenure, the Revelers played with such indie stalwarts as Sloan and GBV themselves. As Sleepykid, the guys have played with the Apples in Stereo, the Lilys, Spoon, and Jonathan Richman. So, as you can see, these lads aren’t exactly new to the game, still twiddling with the knobs on the amp to see if some effect will mask a lack of skills. Rather, they have both an intimate knowledge of indie music history and one another’s styles and nuances as musicians. This is apparent from the first to last note on their debut album.
There is nary a lackluster note on this album, which, surprisingly, is disconcerting from a reviewer’s perspective. Album opener “Lift My Head” features one of the most infectious guitar riffs in recent memory, a guitar line that sails through air, bounces off of itself, finds another path, and starts to sail again. Midway through the song, an unsteady steel guitar echoes the melody of the guitar line, while the drums boom like John Bonham playing in a five-by-five closet. In “What We’re Doing Today”, Cuturic sings, “Someday soon, you know that all of it will be gone” only to later add “Tell the kids that it’s alright”. In the background, a chiming, rolling guitar line bounces and plays like a child in the park on an autumn afternoon. “Cast Away” is built around guitars that alternate between the repetitive and the swirling, while the bass—Peter Hook style—heavily slides up and down. Album closer “Take Your Time” sounds like a surreal lullaby, much like Tim Burton and Danny Elfman composing music for Fisher Price.
Sleepykid spent four years writing and recording its debut, and the labor and numerous lineup changes were well worth the effort. Having pushed on through a band breakup, becoming a father four times, and the uncertainty of the creative process, Andrej Cuturic has proven that one can reconcile “growing up” with being a dedicated artist. Together, he and his band mates have created the genuine thing, an album that borrows from and builds upon its influences. Monday Morning Smile will probably fly right under the popularity radar, but it deserves a wide audience.