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The Big Sleep - Sleep Forever

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Artist: The Big Sleep

Album: Sleep Forever

Label: French Kiss

Review date: Feb. 26, 2008

It’s hard, for the moment, to imagine the Big Sleep being someone’s favorite band. Their medium doesn’t really leave room for it. They play rock music, limber and forceful, but without any particular stake in novelty; their songs are logical, calculated, even cunning, but not so studied as to constitute a commentary on rock music, an attitude you could adopt as your own. They don’t put much of themselves across either, aside from a sort of technical fervor that occasionally borders on dry humor. What they do is expressive, but a little distant – and elegance alone doesn’t usually command devotion.

On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine Sleep Forever being someone’s favorite album for a good while. The personality of a band and the personality of an album are independent domains, after all, and the latter – which takes continuity and staying power on a much smaller and more material scale – is ideal territory for the Brooklyn trio. They don’t make statements but they write good songs, sometimes terrific ones, and they’re smart about situating them in relation to one another. They don’t just sound like they’re from an era before the death-of-the-album kerfuffle (they’re not, and by all indications their debut EP, You Today, Me Tomorrow, is downloadable only): they write records that way, too.

The Big Sleep have also gotten better by huge leaps with each outing, delivering on the promise of their earlier songs without maturing too ambitiously. Their first full-length, 2006’s Son of the Tiger, romped through noisy guitar debris and crested at well-spaced intervals, conjuring at its most inspired moments a sultrier Sonic Youth (“Shima”) or a lower-tech Trans Am (“You Can’t Touch the Untouchable”). Sleep Forever, less patchy on the whole and even better at its highlights, smoothes out its predecessor’s tonal peaks and valleys: less squall, more vocals; less suspense, more drama; cleaner noise, bigger noise, better noise. It’s a record that Son of the Tiger suggested they had in them, just not exactly the record.

Insofar as there’s a surprise, it’s a question of drama and it works in their favor. There’s a swagger to Sleep Forever, from its suffocating Morriconean intro to its unabashedly epic conclusion (also the loutishly self-lionizing pun of its title), but it’s deliberate and, it quickly turns out, merited. Side one is sequenced like a ritual bearing of arms: the intro leads into a set of teetering, fitful instrumentals with almost comical abruptness (about 45 seconds into “Slow Race”); bassist Sonya Balchandani sings first on the wonderfully sludgy “Bad Blood,” guitarist Danny Barria on the nearly perfect “Pinkies.” Morose breather “Little Sister” is unremarkable on its own, but its place at the apex of a five-song rise in tension illustrates the big-picture design the band works so convincingly.

The record’s second half is less commanding, although “Organs” and the elegiac title track stand out promptly. But even the tamer numbers make good on the long-player format, heightening the surrounding highs by mirroring and occasionally winking at them. The coup of Sleep Forever is that its aggregate value doesn’t suffer for a handful of phenomenal tracks, and it seems correct that the Big Sleep, whose appeal is neither anachronistic nor identifiably modern, should make albums that are satisfying in such a traditional way. If they keep it up for a decade or so, they should be eligible for favorite band status by track record alone.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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