The Dead Space’s Chlorine Sleep hits all the right notes square on a waiting chin out of the gate. There are mightily propulsive, jackhammer rhythms paired with bright, twinkling guitar (addictive opener “La La Man”, possibly the LP’s finest moment), hyper-pressurized art-rock that’s part OCD Landowner, part new wave Brainiac (“Head on the Glass”), and electrified, mutant blues scales (“Sick and Humble”). That’s in the first three songs. Yes, Chlorine Sleep, the Austin trio’s second LP proper, sounds like it’s a force with which to reckon… until, you know, it’s not. Recorded in 2015, just days before the band decided to go the way of the Dodo, the second half of the LP unravels with the tension one would expect of that collective moment. The latter half of Chlorine Sleep not only doesn’t live up to the expectations set by its former; it seems content to wallow in its mild mannerisms.
What we have here, dear listeners is roughly half of a great record. “Animal”, the fourth track, is a precious murder ballad complete with buzz-saw guitars that grind away at the flesh and a hypnotic but oddly perky bass line from frontman Quin Galavis that insinuates something almost defiantly sinister. The aforementioned “Head on the Glass” nails all the post-whatever Devo-isms – the single-note twirls and the herky-jerky bass. The Dead Space get all the details right on that track, down to the pressurized click-clack clink of drummer Jenny Arthur’s closed hi-hat, an instrument tightened seemingly beyond its previous incarnations.
Around “Never Close”, which hints at the unraveling mess it becomes, the band lack some of their grandeur. Even the spartan arrangements or the tight, interweaving nature of the players seems to fall away a bit. In the second half of Chlorine Sleep, we get hyper-jacked verses that go seemingly nowhere (“Cooked Books”) a “Head on the Glass” faux-reprise that isn’t as inviting or tightly wound as the original (“Point of View”), and a Dirty Three-aspiring, meandering and out of character closer that I hope was recorded when one or some of the members were soused (the meh “True Shame”).
Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, of course. “So Wasteful”, the tenth of the LP’s 12 tracks and a closing outlier, features more of the jackhammer percussion that kicked off the LP to great effect and lots of great gnarled guitar chatter from axe-man Garrett Hadden to complement it. But, all too often, the Dead Space sound in this terrain like they lost their groove part of the way through the proceedings – or packed the lede in hopes that people wouldn’t notice the lackluster bottom.
Now, on to the point of this whole thing. The band had promise – many in Austin saw it from the get-go with their first LP, Faker. However, the sophomore slump hit these guys hard and, while other underground bands broke up only to see their capital soar (Slint is the textbook). I cannot imagine people listening to Faker, then listening to Chlorine Sleep and being satisfied. 12XU is right to push this out there – there’s some great material on the LP. But much of the goodwill toward the trio will be squandered when looking at the total package. The second half of Chlorine Sleep is, well, sleepy, and that’s far from the tone they want to nail in its bombastic opening moments. As I said, this is half of a great LP, but that’s not going to win the Dead Space any more fanfare than when their members were still raging at the dying of the light.