Sleepingdog: Polar Life

A spell is cast from the first instant Chantal Acda's double-tracked voice appears on Polar Life's opener “Prophets” with her breathy, heavily-accented delivery the music's major calling card. The songs themselves are things of beauty too—multi-hued, largely beatless settings of melancholic character built around piano, acoustic guitar, and strings and sweetened with glockenspiel, vibes, banjo, and assorted other subtle enhancements. The piano has a slightly hazy sound, as if it's been exhumed from a dusty attic for the recording session, which gives it a dream-like quality that complements the album tone. Though the Netherlands native moved to Belgium after the 1999 release of Dreamy Yell under her own name, Polar Life takes as its primary inspiration Iceland , something borne out by the fairy-like atmosphere that colours the material.

She typically songs in a largely unsentimental manner, content to let the songs communicate the emotion, but presents a more dramatic and naked delivery in “The Sun Sinks in the Sea” (the poem “Nú hverfur sól í haf” by Icelandic writer Sigurbjörn Einarsson was a starting point for the song) which is more of a hypnotic incantation than song. On “The Sun Sinks in the Sea” and the folk ballad “Alleys,” the vocal multi-tracking is dispensed with and a greater vulnerability comes forth as a result. In “Sunshine Daylight,” her high, quivering voice alternates between right and left channels while the music itself, like the sun rising, builds as synthesizers swell alongside acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. The gorgeous ballads that dominate Polar Life (“Your Eyes,” “Polar Life,” “When It Lies,” “Little One”) highlight the haunting beauty of her fragile voice. At disc's end, a stately cover of Sophia's “If Only” provides a haunting exeunt (oddly, the song, instrumentally at least, at some moments distantly echoes Eno's “Spider and I”).

The collection's polish surprises somewhat, given that Acda's only been performing and recording under the name Sleepingdog since 2006; furthermore, Polar Life is only her second solo release (her debut Naked in a Clean Bed appeared in 2006). Having Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid, Dead Texan) on board as producer and sonic alchemist goes a long way towards explaining why the album sounds so splendid. An alluring collection to say the least.

October 2008