No horns? No strings? It takes a while to adjust to the new, more muscular sound of sleepmakeswaves, but by the time the ten-and-a-half-minute monster “the edge of everything” drops, it all clicks. Literally, we might add, as the combination of live and electronic drums is responsible for the extra element this time out. Credit the participation of producer Nick DiDia (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine) for the change, which has inspired a surprising tour with Christian screamo band Underoath, who once had an album debut atop the Billboard 200. Made of Breath Only will likely open new doors for the former post-rock band, which might be better classified these days as straight up rock. But that’s okay, as the increased energy level has produced an album of solid stadium anthems; and the band’s pedigree, although diminished, is still apparent.
The opening and breakdown of the aforementioned track call to mind the work of 65daysofstatic, another space bar-challenged band known for its blend of electronics and hard instrumental rock. Whenever the electronics rise to the foreground, the interest increases. In this case, such segments also feature the album’s crispest mastering; they (nearly literally) jump from the speakers. But the set’s central appeal is the riffs, which bassist Alex Wilson describes as “angrier, sadder, and heavier.” We agree with the first and third assessments, but not the second; one needs the strings for that. And without a primary ballad (“Glacial” is not as slow as the title indicates), the album seems to fly right into the heart of sadness, busting it with a stick. That’s okay, we didn’t want to be sad anyway.
The album’s other ten-minute song, closer “Hailstones”, comes to life when everything drops out save a strummed guitar. This underscores the fact that sleepmakeswaves has always been as strong as its dynamic contrast. This is often more apparent in shorter pieces, and the album contains at least two strong single candidates: the already-available “Tundra”, which tilts its guitars into separate speakers, and the title track, which at 3:09 seems to scream “45!” This piece distills the band to its essence, with piano, glockenspiel, rustling electronics, a gradual build (but not too gradual given the length!) and a subtle, satisfying conclusion. This track won’t kill in concert, but it may be the album’s standout cut, signifying yet another way forward for the still-developing foursome. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 24 March