As I write this, Sleepy Sun have 58 cities lined up for one of the most epic tours I’ve ever seen on a band’s MySpace page. It sounds entirely exhausting, it sounds fun, and they’re definitely supporting the shit out of their new record, Fever. Chances are pretty good that you may be in one of those cities, and if you end up at a Sleepy Sun show, you’ll probably hear: loud guitars, soft plaintive guitars, reverb-masked vocals, Bonham drums, and psychedelia-meets-lump in the throat folk. It sounds just as dizzying and ambitious as the tour itself, but yet, somehow — on record, and onstage — they never come across that ballsy. (And if you leave the show with a contact high, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Just over a year ago the San Francisco six-piece released Embrace, their debut on ATP (they also played at the label’s festival). Having shown some potential out of the gate, it was anyone’s guess as to how the band’s sophomore effort would sound. The verdict? More of the same: 1970s prog and psych-indebted, big sounding rock, with folky detours and accomplished singing. On “Marina,” lead singers Bret Constantino and Rachel Fannan trade lines between massive build-ups and break-downs, over the course of five different movements. It ends up front-loading the record in such a way that by Fever’s mid-way point, rear-view glances begin to look more interesting than the road ahead.
On tracks like “Wild Machines” and lead single “Open Eyes,” Sleepy Sun become predictable (when they’re trying not be) and fail to make each phrase count (the former’s six minutes seem excessive). However, you couldn’t ask for a better engineered record — both the aforementioned and remaining songs on the album sound colossal, doing justice to their scorching solos and thunderous drums (the drumming on Fever is great). They even briefly turn the amps off, sounding tender on acoustic interlude “Ooh Boy,” with apt use of background dissonance rubbing against the euphonic Constantino/Fannan duet. But when the amps are cranked, it’s hard to hear what they are actually saying, even during the albums 10-minute curtain-call “Sandstorm Woman.”
It’d be easy to imagine Sleepy Sun recording in some hippie enclave in NorCal, and just as easy to imagine them poring out of VW bus speakers at Burning Man. All stereotypes aside, I’m sure these are very honest musicians who aren’t looking over their shoulders (but if they did, they might see coevals Black Mountain giving them a nod). The problem is that it all sounds so familiar, and they just seem far too comfortable perpetuating stoner rock clichés.