Khale: Sleepworks
Own Records

Waiting anxiously for the next outings from The Notwist and The Postal Service? You may want to let Khale's Sleepworks fill the gap until those presumed releases see the light of day. The thirty-six-minute collection started out as a solo project initiated by singer-songwriter Kael Smith in 2006, with the goal a stripped-down debut album. But after recording ten songs, he asked Blusom multi-instrumentalist Jme White about the possibility of re-mixing them, which led to an eventual partnership where songs were re-recorded and the band name Khale adopted (with keyboardist Matt Heron also on board).

The material seems designed to ease one into sleep from the outset, with the opening incantation “Garrison,” which pairs Smith's gentle declamations with a creaky old piano and shuddering strings, a potent enough intoxicant all by itself. Following that graceful overture, “The Living Desert” offsets its lulling rhythms and wordless harmonies with a harder-edged guitar attack, while the later “My Little Sister's Curiosity” even seems to sonically mimic in its closing minutes the imagistic unfurl of a deep dream state.

Multi-layered pop constructions such as “Little Black Bed” with their intricate comminglings of vocal weaves and instrumental richness suggest affinities between Sleepworks and The Notwist's Neon Golden, especially when both so seamlessly merge organic, acoustic sounds with electronics. Hear how effortlessly, for example, the hushed vignette “Assemble the Meal” aligns Smith's whispered vocal and orchestral strings with crystalline synth elements. That his vocals have more than a little in common with Ben Gibbard's comes to the fore in beautiful pop constructions such as “Caldas” and “Wild to See You.” Lyrically the songs play out more like vivid short stories than your standard lyric-writing, with phrases like “I used to shave grandfather's face in the mornings…” (“Wild to See You”) and “A hundred little moonbeams all across your forehead” (“The Living Desert”) so evocatively charged that pictures instantly form in one's mind. When his multi-tracked voice swells to blissful effect in “My Little Sister's Curiosity” and utters “Picture this … a pitch-black night with red and white scenery,” one hardly needs the album's cover artwork in order to imagine the scene.

May 2008