Sleep Whale: Houseboat
Western Vinyl

Hailing from Denton, Texas, Sleep Whale members Joel North (guitar, cello) and Bruce Blay (percussion, field recordings, guitar, bass, violin) follow up their recent EP Little Brite with the more satisfying full-length Houseboat. While the EP's material proved promising, it also at times suffered from an excess of clutter in its presentation; Houseboat, by comparison, strikes a more pleasing balance, with the group's bucolic electroacoustic pop material exemplifying a noticeable refinement and control in its arrangements.

The album opens in full-flight with the rambunctious post-rock hoedown “Green Echo” before the group (abetted by singers Paul North and Asley Rathburn) makes a reasonably successful stab at vocal-based electro-rock on “Cotton Curls.” A stirring arrangement of strings and nocturnal percussion effects helps elevate “Roof Sailing” above standard post-rock, an effect fortified by a wistful call-and-response between an acoustic guitar and strings that also deepens the song's emotional impact. There's likewise a serenading quality to “Sleep Reprise,” which helps it make a strong impression despite a brief three-minute running time. On (largely) instrumental settings such as “Ferry Whistle” and “Light Tunnel,” North and Blay weave acoustic guitar picking and bowed strings into rapturous mini-soundtracks where electronic treatments and drums add auspicious colour and rhythmic heft respectively.

On vocal tracks such as “We Were Dripping” and “Still Drumming,” the group exudes some of Arcade Fire's anthemic spirit (minus the histrionics) and some of Animal Collective's trippy pop sensibility (the jaunty acoustic pop of “Make Another Picture”—replete with howls, no less—nudges Sleep Whale's sound even further in that group's direction). Listeners with an appetite for fluid rhythm textures, murmured vocals, and lush instrumental scene-painting certainly could do a lot worse than Houseboat. That its forty-seven minutes seemingly race by in considerably less time is another indication of the album's high quality.

November 2009