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Sleep Whale - Houseboat

You might not be quite sure where you’ve been taken after listening to ‘Houseboat’.

You might not be quite sure where you’ve been taken after listening to ‘Houseboat’, the debut full-length from North Texas’ Sleep Whale, but rest assured it was an eclectic odyssey filled with organic found-sounds and other pleasurable sonic hijinks. The songs are buoyant expressions of youthful exuberance as well as textured, emotive snapshots of life left alone, and the often stunning results are proof positive that when two talented musicians (Joel North and Bruce Blay) are left to their own devices away from either influence or expectation, the outcome can be extraordinary.

The driving drum beats of ‘Green Echo’ sets the sanguine tone for the record nicely, with the instrumental track building to a soaring crescendo amidst stately string arrangements that are layered upon other less conventional, experimental sounds. It all adds up to a truly original initial statement to start the album off, and effectively leads in to the Sparklehorse-sounding ‘Cotton Curls,’ which introduces the more traditional aspect of North’s dreamy vocals but still manages to have a unique, innovative style. There are elements of both Animal Collective and Ween in the psychedelic folk of ‘We Were Dripping,’ with bubbly water sounds adding ambiance to the utterly quirky track.

But to dismiss this project as yet another surreal freak-folk act would be to discredit the truly lovely arrangements found on ‘Houseboat’’s quieter numbers, particularly on the delicate ‘Roof Sailing’ and ‘Summer Sick,’ which anchors the strong middle half of the record, and really finds North and Blay weaving their intricate strings, guitars and drums into a splendid tapestry of sound. There is playfulness threaded throughout this record, surely, but there is also a tremendous amount of talent, and that balanced fusion is what resonates in the spirit of these songs.

‘Sleep Reprise’ is gorgeous and moving (referencing the eponymous track on the band’s excellent debut EP ‘Little Brite’), and ushers in the dreamlike finish to the record, with the second half flowing seamlessly in one long ethereal wave. There is plenty of sonic chicanery layered within Sleep Whale’s sound, but it still maintains a genuine organic nature and never comes off as being fraudulent or dishonest, just curious and inquisitive, with the band trying to match the right sounds to fit the mood of the music. They let the listener in to that creative side of the journey, and that inclusive quality is what really allows ‘Houseboat’ to shine, creating a memorable and distinctive record that might not bring you to the same place every time, but is at least bound to take you somewhere.

Tags: Sleep Whale, Reviews, Album Reviews

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