Album: SLEEP WHALE – Houseboat (Western Vinyl WEST055 2009)

Since the release of the mini LP Little Brite back in the spring, Denton, Texas’s Sleep Whale have expanded into a quartet with original duo Bruce Blay and Joel North being joined by Paul North and Spencer Stephenson. The group’s summery part-vocal / part-instrumental music is a seamless mix of violin, cello, acoustic guitar and electronics with rhythms provided by occasionally martial drums.

Most of Houseboat (named after their studio) has a sunny lightness about it, as complex acoustic guitar figures build a sweet outline for the other instruments to colour in. The vocal tracks, in particular, such as “Cotton Curls” and “We Were Dripping” have an idyllic sense of ease about them, like a more folky version of Animal Collective or even Arcade Fire (before they went all pomp-rock).

For me, though, the band really excel on their instrumentals. While the moods never reach the really dark or fierce, there are passages of disquiet amongst the bucolic bliss, but also passages of real beauty. “Dissolved” is a short string and guitar drone piece. “Icicles” provides a suitably stark drop in temperature, whilst “Ferry Whistle” is a ghostly, dreamlike piece that brings to mind the ferryman Charon of Greek legend who took the dead across the river Styx to Hades. The final track, “Giant Wings”, introduces rumbling feedback across which violin and cello dance in a melancholy embrace.

Houseboat’s integration of strings, electronics, folk and rock never sounds jarring or forced, but totally natural. They avoid both post-rock clichés and hackneyed pop structures and yet have created something that is full of melodic charm. It’s easy on the ear, but never bland. A great album.

1 Green Echo 4:11
2 Cotton Curls 3:17
3 We Were Dripping 4:29
4 Roof Sailing 4:24
5 Summer Sick 4:07
6 Dissolved 1:17
7 Still Drumming 4:49
8 Sleep Reprise 3:27
9 Make Another Picture 4:09
10 Icicles 2:47
11 Ferry Whistle 2:37
12 Light Tunnel 3:44
13 Giant Wings 3:45



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