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Aerogramme - Sleep and Release

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Artist: Aerogramme

Album: Sleep and Release

Label: Matador

Review date: Mar. 13, 2003

Rock and Epic Emotion

Aerogramme play tricks with the listener at the beginning of their new album, Sleep and Release. Kicking the first song off with straightforward bass, then piling heavy guitars and drums onto it, you'd be forgiven for expecting the album to be all heavy rock. That song, "Indiscretion #243," is very reminiscent of Tool, actually, primarily due to the stop-start rhythms, heavy guitar, and melodic vocals. But partway through, we suddenly hear organ entering during a quieter break, a chorus of vocals, and then we're in the middle of a briefly elegiac moment before the guitars bust in again, heavy as a brick.

I imagine that Craig B, Campbell McNeil and Martin Scott are rather weary of comparisons to Mogwai, which I see throughout past reviews of the band's first album. And they should be tired of them, because I don't see it. Aerogramme have a way with dynamics, but rather than simple on/off switches, their songs feel like they're built as movements, symphonically structured. The band's nearly-metal rock leanings could easily seem awkwardly glued onto passages of strings and keyboards, but the songs all work, and work well. The building of momentum from beautiful or ominous minimalism into cathartic, sweeping heaviness is remarkable. Cave In come to mind as working vaguely similar territory, but Aerogramme feel more concerned with dramatic impact.

"Black Path" opens with a truly gorgeous symphony of keyboards, strings, and guitars. After a moment, they break it down to violin and vocals, beautiful and sad. This is simply a stupendous song, filled with dense and powerfully cresting waves of sound alternating with quieter interludes. The finale, with grand vocals and strings atop pounding drums and bass, is exhilarating. "A Simple Process of Elimination" is decidedly different, based on a simple synthetic rhythm that's distorted like a drum heard through a crackling radio. The song opens very simply, with vocals and delicately plucked guitar, building as strings pull it up towards a slightly brighter light. The vocals are high and sad, almost reminiscent of Radiohead's best moments while avoiding the latter's occasional whining binges. A slightly creepy, voyeuristic note comes at the end as a desperate-sounding answering machine message plays.

It's startling when "Older" suddenly breaks in next, all loudly roaring guitars before it fades down to an expectant quiet which builds back up into a metallic guitar onslaught, complete with harsh vocals: heavy and satisfying. "No Really, Everything's Fine" again seems clearly inspired by Tool, mixing heavy assault with tense, minimal verses, piano and guitar working together to drive the heavier moments with a melancholy feel that lies over the song as a whole.

"Wood" gets really heavy, with massive distorted guitars and screaming, probably the densest, most confrontational song on the album. It's particularly so at the end, which devolves into feedback, squelching sounds, and then, oddly, sort of cute little electronic noises veering back and forth in the stereo spectrum.

If there's a weak spot on this album, it would be "In Gratitude," which actually feels like a Radiohead B-side. While the sonic density is fairly thick, the vocals end up sounding relatively weak, and overall the song comes off like a fake emotional offering to top 40 radio. It doesn't help that by the end the lyrics are just the same line repeated endlessly. The song is an unfortunate lag in the album's otherwise strong momentum.

To be honest, I'll be very surprised if this album doesn't appear on my list of favorite albums of this year; it would have to be a remarkably strong year for me to find ten albums better than this one. Despite not quite hitting 100 percent, Sleep and Release easily satisfies both my desire for rock and my love of epic, emotional passages.

By Mason Jones

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