Release Date: Jan 28, 2014
Record label: Dine Alone Music
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
This might not be the best way to listen to an album, but my first experience of hearing Maui Tears, the fourth album from San Francisco psych-rockers Sleepy Sun, was lying flat in a hospital bed, blindfolded, the tunes rolling through noise-cancelling headphones as I floated in a Percocet-induced haze. Then again, maybe this is a great way to listen to an album. A month ago I was recovering from major abdominal surgery, and the hospital ward was noisy and brightly lit.
Californian rockers Sleepy Sun have described their own sound as “feedback-laden psychedelic rock from the back streets of San Francisco, edgy music that goes down like cheap whiskey from a dirty glass”. With earlier material often built around the heavy riffage of stoner rock, the path of evolution for the five-piece has seen them heading towards the mellower, ‘stoned beyond your senses’ meanderings of more common modern psychedelia. The tepidly received third album Spine Hits arrived in 2012, leaving the impression that they had all but burnt themselves out.
Californian psych rockers Sleepy Sun have enjoyed a turbulent ride since their formation seven years ago. Internal conflicts - or 'artistic differences' as they've come to be known - may have led to the departure of original members Hubert Guy and Rachel Fannan, yet that hasn't put paid to the prolific nature of their output. While debut long player Embrace combined Nuggets-like garage rock with meandering effects-laden workouts, 2010's follow-up Fever established them as one of the growing psych scene's most exciting prospects.
San Francisco psych rock renegades Sleepy Sun had a massive overhaul when long-standing vocalist Rachel Fannan departed in late 2010. This did little to slow the band down, with Bret Constantino stepping up as full-time lead vocalist for ensuing tours and the recording of 2012's riveting Spine Hits. Fourth album Maui Tears continues riding the strengths of Spine Hits, and sees the band becoming an even more tightly wound studio entity, with precision production and incredibly locked-in performances that dip into a gradient of various psychedelic styles.
Things have changed since Sleepy Sun formed back in 2007. Experimental, psychedelic rock would only grant you a place on the fringes of the alternative mainstream back then, whereas now it’s de rigeur, thanks in no small part to the surprising – but certainly not unwelcome – success of Tame Impala. I would use an analogy about a glass ceiling here, but unfortunately that’s a phrase that I’ll now forever associate with that Alex Turner speech from the Brits, which was so embarrassing that even his jaw appeared to be trying to distance itself from him.
California dreamers Sleepy Sun emerged at the tail end of the 2000s playing a mix of freaky British folk, shaggy 1970s metal and sun-dappled AM Gold – too weird to be Fleet Foxes, too straight to be Animal Collective. Their fourth album has all the bluster of arena alternative, but none of the confidence. They're still masters of goopy reverb and brittle distortion, but Bret Constantino's lyrics read like Aquarius pap (or stuff Wayne Coyne would be too embarrassed to tweet): "Outside we can lose our clothes/As vanity carries heavy loads." The only victory here is the 10-minute title track, a shimmering return to their weirdo roots, full of tootling flute and levee-breaking harmonica solos.