Release Date: Apr 10, 2012
Record label: The End
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
Sleepy SunSpine Hits[The End Records; 2012]By Kerri O'Malley; April 13, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGSpine Hits is stuffed with melodic monster jams whose teeth have been sanded down, ready for radio. For a moment, Sleepy Sun even makes you feel like you’re in an alternate world where rock might still be played with static – a land where grain is a-plenty and a band of boys from Northern California can tell their moms to tune in at nine to hear their new single on the airwaves for the first time. But alas, the world is not so, and Spine Hits has to sit uncomfortably in a diasporic and virtual music scene that requires a studied search, when you know it’d rather be playing outside with whatever neighborhood kids it encountered.
Ever the proponents of succinctly entitled albums, five-piece San Francisco ensemble Sleepy Sun craft a kaleidoscopic work of restless wanderings embracing late ‘60s folk and early ‘70s psychedelia with their latest Spine Hits. While not ousted completely, the heavy, spaced out jams that defined lush debut Embrace have mostly dissipated. In its place, Sleepy Sun cultivates a far more accessible pathway into the genre of psychedelia with their third release, fluctuating more towards modern psych pop.
If you listened to the previous two Sleepy Sun albums, you will notice a major change on their third, Spine Hits. The band is missing a member: singer Rachel Fannan. Strangely, the band barely mentions her departure, calling her a “backup singer” when she left, and referring to themselves now quite contentedly as a “band of brothers”. However, a little research uncovers the fact that Fannan exited the band under uneasy yet vague circumstances.
Spine Hits is the third album from San Francisco psychedelic warriors Sleepy Sun, and their first following powerful co-vocalist Rachel Fannan's departure from the band. Fannan's absence is notable, but not to the degree where the band sounds like a completely different act altogether. They're still dealing in the same drony acid rock and textural guitar tone tapestries that defined their earlier material, owing much to the pioneers of '60s San Fran psychedelia.
The first time I saw West Coast rockers Sleepy Sun live, they had a costumed wizard onstage, possessing the presence of a traveling caravan of desert minstrels, as Bret Constantino and Rachel Fannan exchanged sun-tinged vocals like flying doves. On tour this spring to promote their third LP, the group’s leaner line-up echoes the new, straightforward sound they favor on Spine Hits, the change being both a welcome release of weight and an unfortunate loss. Now, blues-rock opulence is swapped for brevity, as Spine Hits features shorter and consequently more songs than its two predecessors.
Despite co-singer Rachel Fannan leaving under a black cloud during a 2010 US tour, Sleepy Sun appear determined to continue unabated their transition from hard rock to softer psychedelic fare on ‘Spine Hits’. Trouble is, while the overall sound is brighter, it’s also largely rather weedy, and trading in the once colossal stoner riffs for languid neo-folk doesn’t really suit this five-piece all that well. When they do stretch out, such as on the likes of ‘Martyr’s Mantra’, there are flashes of their latent magic to be heard, but exactly what use is progress if you end up sounding like a bantamweight Fleet Foxes?[i]Tom Edwards[/i] .
From more disorderly beginnings on their first long-player ‘Embrace’, Sleepy Sun delivered a cult classic with the follow up ‘Fever’; conjuring elemental forces on windswept soundscapes they created something both original and reverential that added up to a truly unique listening experience. Though ‘Spine Hits’ never reaches the dizzy heights of ‘Fever”s ‘Desert God’ there’s nevertheless a lot to like about the new album – in particular, the closer ‘Lioness (Requiem)’, which is as good a track as they’ve ever penned. ‘She Rex’ on the other hand is a welcome change of pace from their earlier material, lilting along with the assurance of Dinosaur Jr.
Up until late 2010, Sleepy Sun could bask in the fact they were among the most enjoyable, powerful and melodic bands on the American psychedelic landscape. With two brilliant albums behind them and the capacity to be volcanic live, the Santa Cruz group had reached a true zenith in their young career. Many things combined to make up their sparkling space-rock, which combined with elements of Americana and 60s folk-rock.