Album Review: Sleep In – Pyramid

[Self-released; 2009]

The bedroom artist is one easily dismissed, especially in a world where musical choice is at our fingertips. If there’s no instant attraction or big name behind the music (see Atlas Sound) then chances are play counts won’t go past two or three at the very most. And really that’s very saddening because anything soaked in a little microphone hiss can stand aside anything with the greatest sheen music production can produce at this point in time.

However the microphones used to record Pyramid, the second album this year from Australian artist Sleep In, don’t emanate a great deal of hiss but the record is still very much in the bedroom recording category. The heavier numbers such as “Skin”, “Heckler’s Venom” and “Sonic Mass” which are often based on distorted chords on electric guitar are fine enough stabs at heavy metal for one person but they sound compressed, like they were recorded in a vacuum. The songs scream for a huge hall for the distortion to reverberate around as they drown themselves and the hushed vocals.

The vocals, though, don’t seem a focal point here and are often hidden behind everything else going on. Rather they sound included for self satisfaction – things that wanted to be said but no one but the artist will really fully understand. When we do hear the dry and grey voice at its clearest, it ironically comes towards the centre of the album as sings of “waiting for cracks to appear” over sublime echoing piano and Johnny Marr stabs of harmonica.

From what I’ve said so far it sound like I’m doing exactly what I spoke out against to begin with. But for a record like this it’s hard not to concentrate on the sound created. Often moments come across as lo-fi such as the enjoyable but empty acoustic moments like “One Thing (For Me)” and “Ramree”. The best moments here are when unnerving backdrops are created, not from repeated attacks of electric guitar, but from subtle melding of musical elements. Opener “(Untitled I)” fidgets some processed beats and seemingly random recorded moments over beautiful but familiar piano as horns from a forgotten film soundtracks are played far away somewhere. “Washed Away” goes on nothing more than a slow beat and guitar melody but it’s the backdrop of distortion and sudden waves of melodica that seep their way over the song that make it memorable and worth returning to.

The best infusion of all the elements displayed on Pyramid are definitely on the final song, “Two Hands”. With a beat that stumbles but never fully falls over itself it (in a good way) an unsettling chord pattern is repeated. As the minutes roll on a passage of a child speaking is played, one that also appears on Atlas Sound’s record, showing that Sleep In is very much linking himself with the lo-fi bedroom music scene by using the same materials as his (so far) more successful counterpart.

The record doesn’t even run past the half hour mark which makes it easy to consider as a whole but the almost anxious shivering tone that rings through the course of the album makes it difficult to feel invited to. There’s plenty hidden in here and the stereo mixing of the album adds a sheen of ambition to it. But the effectiveness of the better songs and instrumentals don’t make grand statements are hardly likely to be put on top of other memorable musical moments from this year alone. Nonetheless, while it’s playing, its vacuum of noises keeps you there until the final loop as an aeroplane takes off over and over. I wonder how long before another artist takes that to use in their song?