Music

Sleepy Sun: Spine Hits

Photo: Tom Stone

The California stoner rock band tightens up on its third album, losing a member as well as its loose song structure.


Sleepy Sun

Spine Hits

Label: The End
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: 2012-04-09
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

If you listened to the previous two Sleepy Sun albums, you will notice a major change on their third, Spine Hits. The band is missing a member: singer Rachel Fannan. Strangely, the band barely mentions her departure, calling her a “backup singer” when she left, and referring to themselves now quite contentedly as a “band of brothers”. However, a little research uncovers the fact that Fannan exited the band under uneasy yet vague circumstances. Though Fannan did take less than half of the main vocal duties, her absence is felt, most clearly in the harmonies with the remaining singer, Bret Constantino (who now, it seems, harmonizes with himself, without competition).

With the male and female vocals, Sleepy Sun shared the model of fellow “stoners” Black Mountain without incorporating that band’s prog elements. What was most interesting in this double lead was the way Constantino and Fannan blended their voices together, in a sort of dual androgyny. They sounded like one another—and they could actually sing. But beyond that there is a lack of identity. Constantino has a soulful scratchy voice, which, fitted in the context of hippy stomp and boogie, might call to mind ‘90s precursors like Shannon Hoon or Chris Robinson. His voice, however, is a bit lighter, without as much personality: even when his voice isn’t backed up with harmonies, there’s a childlike aspect. Something in his tone gives his voice a kind of baby-talk, a young sound that cuts out the possible heft in his range.

Musically, the band stays well within the range of ‘60s and ‘70s guitar rock and psychedelic folk, stuck in the major downfall of most bands that get labeled “stoner,” a lack of changeup. The first two albums, Embrace and Fever, sound like versions of each other. In other words, the band had a formula, basically two different types of songs. The heavy and ponderous stomper and the folky acoustic-based sing-song. Somehow, no song quite stands out, though overall the albums still deliver a pleasant feeling. They paint you a stoner landscape that is flat, nothing that perks your head up.

In line with slimming down in its membership, Sleepy Sun creates a sleeker sound on Spine Hits as if it is trying to professionalize itself. It’s not a drastic change; you will still recognize the hazy Californian psychedelia that mixes heavy and soft for a perfect stoner blend. The opener, "Stivey Pond," could begin the other albums, except that it is half as long as a typical track. For this album, they’ve added a new element to their writing process, a third type of song. On tracks like “She Rex” and “V.O.G.”, the band goes right for hooks, leading off with guitar riffs that hearken back to the ‘90s revamp of the wah-wah. Perhaps after touring with the Arctic Monkeys following their last album, the band learned some cues from Britpop. Their hippie lyrics and Led Zeppelin worship call to mind Second Coming-era Stone Roses. See for example, “Martyr’s Mantra,” which loops a guitar riff into what seems like a perpetual buildup that finally plateaus alongside the dreamy vocals. This leveling out is the problem. In cutting out the fat, the band may have also lost some of its flavor.

The songs on Spine Hits are tighter - clearly the mark of a band that has toured endlessly and has become sure of what it can do and where the right punches go in a song. Each track is like a puzzle that fits together the same pieces, the perfect dropout that solos an instrument or vocals, the slow tempo breakdown, the vigorous buildup, the succinct yet expansive guitar lead, the bass turnaround to set up a “jam” moment. But this clockwork element to the album ends up, like the previous albums, compressing all the songs into one level. Though the band masters texturing its songs, it still works within a clearly limited range, which is never too simple but also not too provocative. The major upshot to this method is that the album rewards repeat listens - certain moments begin to stick out, like the ecstatic end refrain on “Siouxsie Blaqq” that finally crowns a laid-back acoustic number with a meaningful sounding electric, noisy tension and release.

On the previous albums, Sleepy Sun alternated their closers. Embrace had a quiet and cute acoustic track; Fever featured a long rocker. As if to go with the professional feeling of Spine Hits, the album’s last song, “Lioness (Requiem)” creates an expectation of something bit, but never quite delivers. In the beginning, a feeling of drama occurs in what almost is a modulation; a military drumbeat adds a purposeful feeling. But the band finally sound battle weary, like they’ve climbed a peak and now want to rest in a quiet valley. The haze has taken over. And perhaps that’s why the album presents itself as “hits”—not bong hits, though that’s possible; but rather giving the sense of a posthumous collection.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez

Music

Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.

Music

"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.

Music

The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.

Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Books

'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.

Music

2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Books

'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.

Music

Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.

Music

Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.