On a recent trip back home, my family got together and watched one of my favorite films, Casablanca. Besides simply loving that film, I’ve decided that no one writes like that anymore. Lines like, “Hmm, what right do I have to think?” and “I came for the waters,” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert?” “I was misinformed,” as well as, “What is your nationality?” “I’m a drunkard” just don’t pop up in today’s cinema. Plus, no one could deliver them like Bogie. Humphrey Bogart also has the distinction of playing two of America’s most famous noir detectives, Sam Spade in Dashiell’s Hammett’s Maltese Falcon and Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. All three films have some of the best film dialogue ever written, with the latter including such great quips as “You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out then kick me in the stomach for mumbling,” and “She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” That film also has the distinction of being one of the most complicated mysteries ever put to paper or film. In fact, the plot is so convoluted, twisting and complex, Chandler forgot to wrap up one loose thread, the death of a chauffeur. Naming your band after such a notorious property is quite a gamble. While the name might not give you insights into this Brooklyn trio’s sound, it does hint at layers of complexity, which both works for and against them at times.
The introduction and first two proper songs of Sleep Forever, a seemingly redundant title since `The Big Sleep,’ like the Dirt Nap or Six Feet Under, is a euphemism for death, are dazzling bits of nerve-tingling post-hardcore. Crunching, mathy guitars aren’t so much an MBV wall of noise, as some would have you believe, but instead a Jawbox-like or Hum-esque note-perfect hellish orgy. This melodic guitar churn, sounding much bigger than three people, is complex, angular and layered enough for any listener, rewarding the ears with both a feeling of escalating euphoria and a slight tincture of danger. Then, they start singing.
While not terrible, the vocal tracks of Sleep Forever just don’t work as well as the instrumental gems. “Bad Blood,” after a searing intro, finds bassist Sonya on lead vocals, essentially sucking out all of the magic from the music with fairly uninspired lyrics and an ’80s pop delivery. And, unfortunately, its follower, “Pinkies,” doesn’t improve the situation much. Again, if left alone as an instrumental track, it would have soared. I don’t know quite when it started, but there’s been a rash of CD’s coming out with stickers saying, `for fans of…,’ with the unlikeliest of names listed. For instance, I found there are a whole slew of crappy emo bands who consider Smashing Pumpkins their godfather-like mentors. Well, “Pinkies” certainly puts the Big Sleep in that camp as I kept waiting for Corgan’s voice to come whining out of the guitar noise. That might have been better, actually.
“Chorus of Guitars,” an apt title if there ever were one, gets the album somewhat back on track, despite the presence of more vocals. Rather than overwrought vocal choruses, this song apes its name, providing musical peaks as highlights, quite effectively. Then the whole thing derails again with “Tigers In Our Hearts.” I’ve never hoped so much, in listening to an album I’ve reviewed, progressing song to song, that a band could simply hear my thoughts and rely on their strengths. Not only does “Tigers” feature more subpar singing, it also meanders along in search of a place to die. If only “Undying Love” were so lucky. Both guy and girl sing on this one, with guy almost mimicking note for note the shout-singing in Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #2 (Laika).” Did they think we wouldn’t notice?
By the time that the last few songs rolled around, some of them FINALLY return to instrumental guitar majesty, it was too late. The entire large middle chunk of Sleep Forever left me not in so much awe by atmosphere and words that I would completely forget about a dead chauffeur, instead finding myself more aggravated that I was left starving for any kind of relief from the `too many layers’ that the Big Sleep provided. No matter what some people may tell you, there is such a thing as too much, and the Big Sleep overindulge themselves by wanting to play `frontman.’ There’s a reason why Kinski waited so long to insert lyrics into their songs, and it’s not because they didn’t have anything to say.
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Zwan- Mary Star of the Sea
Dashboard Confessional- A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar