A Great Awakening
Brooklyn duo The Big Sleep come back from a three-year hibernation with their third LP Nature Experiments, released this month on Frenchkiss Records. Although guitarist/vocalist Danny Barria laments “we tried to work it out, we tried to tell a tale, but we failed” on album opener “#1,” The Big Sleep have done anything but fail on Nature Experiments.
Danny and bassist/vocalist Sonya Balchandani claimed Nature Experiments would be a more focused album, devoid of fillers. They certainly kept their word. Each track has a unique sound, from the Hives-esque “Meet Your Maker” to the brooding synth and light, sweet vocals of “Ghosts in Bodies.” The tracks’ diversity serves as a testament to The Big Sleep’s songwriting skills; each song feels meticulously composed, with attention to dynamics and melody.
While the album is less instrumental than the band’s previous releases (Son of the Tiger in 2006 and Sleep Forever in 2008), its instrumental sections still stand out. The long bridges on “Ace,” “Valentine,” and “Red Carpet” are the best moments on Nature Experiments, when the music conveys emotion with each churning guitar riff and pulsating bass line. The moody, beating bass and shimmering synths give “Red Carpet” a dance feel, culminating in a guitar-heavy chorus and the ceaseless pounding low end. The only track that comes close to being filler is the atmospheric “Wood on the Water,” a dreamy song composed of ethereal effects and muted drums with layered synths.
“Valentine,” probably one of the least cliché songs on the subject ever written, starts off with high, dissonant bells, driving percussion and low synths accompanying Danny’s low vocals. Sonya’s background vocals come in and sweeten the brooding mood, creating a complex melange of layered vocal harmonies that build into a big chorus. The instrumental bridge on “Valentine” has the melodic flavoring of pop-punk, saccharine guitar riffs and throbbing drums, but it descends back into a melancholic tonality, complete with eerily jangling bells.
Two tracks pay tribute to the band’s older material. “Ladders” is a straightforward blend of indie pop and post-rock, with Sonya’s honeyed vocals and distorted (but still melodic) guitars and a hooky chorus. “Four Wishes” is heavier, with more distorted guitars and vocals, but it has a raw, unchecked energy reminiscent of Son of the Tiger.
The Big Sleep took a chance on Nature Experiments, testing out a variety of sounds and departing from the heavily instrumental feel of Sleep Forever. And, luckily, the experiment paid off. If this is the album The Big Sleep have always wanted to create, with more focus and less filler, it will be pretty interesting to see what the duo does next.