Sleeps in Oysters: Lo!
Seed Records

That Sleeps in Oysters' second album Lo! arrived on my doorstep accompanied by an animal mask is merely one of the many things that makes the group's music stand out from the crowd—not that that should have come as too much of a surprise given that its previous three-inch single The Brambles in Starlight arrived wrapped in a ball of wool. Describing Lo! as experimental-electronic vocal pop isn't inaccurate but fails to do justice to the range of imagination and playfulness that's at the heart of the unhinged music brought into being by Lisa Busby and John Harries. Theirs is a baroque curiosity shop of exotic oddities, a unique life-form that's equal parts mutant electronica and bizarro gamelan.

The first song, “The Lost Childwood, The Measure of a Man, The Table of Six,” encapsulates the mercurial Sleeps in Oysters style in one fell swoop. The group's trademark wackiness is showcased when the song begins with a crackly intro of organ and dialogue before shifting into a more conventional electronic-based episode where again voices emerge, hellbent on hijacking the song into a demented zone, this time acompanied by tinkling glockenspiels and recorders. In isolated moments, the album flirts with what for Sleeps in Oysters might be considered more conventional pop territory, such as when “Sunday at the Margin” embeds vocals within a framework of snare-heavy beats and sunny keyboard melodies, and when “The Brambles in Starlight” (the animal bleats and chatter notwithstanding) pairs a jubilant lead vocal with skittering beats and casio-styled keyboard melodies. “Don't Drum for Other Girls” could even be considered New Wave, like some fractured spawn of B-52s and Plastic Letters-era Blondie. “Song for Neglected Boys” opens strikingly in a capella mode before turning into a saloon-styled ballad of particularly off-kilter design, and in the longest piece, the eight-minute “Two People in a Clock by the Digital Sea, Part One: The Fishermen's Hymn,” an opening round of men's singing mutates into a crackling collage of sound snippets, their movements ebbing and flowing like they're bobbing in an electrical bath. Elsewhere, strings careen drunkenly, harp plucks appear amidst noise convulsions, and melodicas and glockenspiels collide alongside macabre, sing-song chants.

Nearly three years in the making, Lo! is unlike anything else currently jostling for position in the known musical universe. The album's forty-seven minutes sound like what might result if two gifted eccentrics armed with tape recorders had been locked away for a couple of weeks in a pawnshop spilling over with broken instruments, electronics, cuckoo clocks, music boxes, radios, and samplers.

June 2011