Sleeping at Last - Keep No Score
Release Date: June 21, 2006
Record Label: Unsigned
There are times when I really wonder how damaged the state of modern music is. Pop is becoming shallower than ever, relying on image and production more than substance. Rap continues it upwardly misogynistic trend, objectifying women while chest-beating rituals attempt to assert some intangible "cred." Rock is seeing its fair share of disappointments as well, with artists and producers dutifully worshipping at the altar of autotune while lyrical depth and, well, talent are relegated to being purely optional.
In this mire, adding to the mess of everything is the ever-present debate over which bands are on which labels, who is getting dropped, who is getting signed, and so forth. Within this soap operatic shuffle, sometimes the good die young, and in this fashion, some of the best bands find themselves without a home. With this unfortunate twist of fate befalling Sleeping at Last, parting with Interscope Records, the band went away for almost three years and did just what everyone hoped they would. They recorded the best damn follow up to Ghosts that a fan or newcomer alike could ask for.
On Ghosts, Sleeping at Last introduced themselves as an immediate powerhouse. Quite simply put, the band did not know how to put out a record that sounded like a debut. Everything on Ghosts was immediate, sweeping, majestic, and grandiose. In fact, it was so epic, that it was borderline exhausting. After a run through of the record, a listener feels the need to take a break from the thick, textured scores they were previously introduced to, and this was perhaps the record's biggest downfall. As remarkable as it was, Ghosts was still rather more admirable in its ambition than its execution, and in my opinion, fell slightly short of the mark.
It can be easily argued that progress and evolution are what turn a good band into a great one. Certainly, this is not a lesson lost on Sleeping at Last. The boys from Wheaton, IL throw their hats into the 2006 ring with one of the year's best releases. Keep No Score is a haunting, majestic soundscape that finally finds the band reaching a level of comfort within its own sound, further defining the qualities that make it a great act. Throughout Keep No Score's brilliantly layered twelve tracks, the band has created an extremely cohesive work that ties strongly from one track to the next, yet also offers up plenty of variety to keep things enticing.
On Keep No Score, Ryan O'Neal's unique voice has returned in full effect, with his throaty caw serving as a constant reminder of how skilled a singer he is. Sounding like a mix of equal parts Bono, Matthew Cawes, Thom Yorke, and Matt Bellamy, O'Neal has the tools to be one of our generation's best. This is a focal point his band is keenly aware of, as his brother Chad and bassist Dan Perdue complement Ryan with subtle undercurrents, but are cognizant not to overtake him (if that were even possible). The end result, is a subtle fragility inherent in the band's songs, as the minimalist quaintness of this threesome is then polished off by the absolutely brilliant work of a string section led by Susan Voelz. Whatever magic this band has been conjuring up over the past three years, it is a winning recipe, as Sleeping at Last hits its stride so well on Score, as clearly exhibited in the soft and wandering "Needle and Thread" and hauntingly atmospherics of "Dreamlife." While all the tracks on the new LP are solid, though, the clear-cut champion is "Umbrellas," which is easily the most beautiful song released so far this year. With its flawlessly flowing string arrangement working in tandem with O'Neal's acoustic guitar strum, when the hook hits, so much emotion is already overflowing from the song, it will bring you to the verge of tears. If you are unmoved by this song, you might want to verify you still are alive.
In the end, Sleeping at Last has made an independent return much like that of The Format. They looked defeat in the face, and made the gorgeous record they were always capable of. This is quite easily one of 2006's best records, if not the best, and will surely be remembered at the end of the year and beyond.