Puma, India post-rock quartet aswekeepsearching is about to release its first ambient album. Reflecting its title, Sleep is meant to induce rapid eye movement, and is accompanied by a series of restive videos, along with a different sunflower illustration for each track. The sunflowers originally attracted us to this work, as the cover art is irresistible. We’re also digging the fact that the band is inviting its fans to write to them, to share stories about whatever they are going through.
The album is a companion to last year’s Rooh, a yin to its yang. That album was positively post-rock, awash in huge crescendos of harmonic guitars. It was also a more vocal album than the new one, which includes only one lyric-based track. (A slight criticism on the sequencing: if the album is intended to put people to sleep, “Dreams Are Real” should have come first! Otherwise let’s hope it doesn’t wake sleepers.) While the guitars are still here, the drums for the most part are not; the band turns its spotlight to padded keys. One of the more overtly post-rock pieces, “Sleep Now,” is centered around a soft piano melody, while the other, “Maybe There,” is more guitar-centric.
“Sleep Again” yields one of the season’s first social distancing videos, as a man walks around his apartment, stares out of his window, sits back down, scrolls through his phone, repeats and yawns. This is a routine many of us have grown all too accustomed to in recent days. But there’s comfort in watching someone else do it, especially when the lights outside the window gleam so appealingly. In contrast, “Let Us Try” is a long, slow sweep of trees and telephone wires, seemingly filmed from a car. Each of these tracks, as well as “How Am I Supposed To Know That,” includes Ajay Jayanthi on violin, resulting in the album’s most beautiful, sleep-inducing moments. The wavelike motion of “Let Us Try” is beneficial to drifting away, a soft drone rising and falling across its span, setting the stage for calm, meditative guitar. The violin gets a little active toward the end, perhaps not enough to wake anyone; we recall that Max Richter occasionally poked through the clouds as well.
While the album might not always work as a sleep aid, that’s okay, because then listeners would miss all the best tracks, nestled in the back of the album. More important is the soothing effect these tracks produce; and we all need a little more centering right now. (Richard Allen)