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After the War
eaded by the narrative-minded David Debiak and having previously written the score to a film that never existed in Hang in There Charlie, Sleep Station’s newest work is the kind of thematically cogent album of which Hemingway would be proud.
After the War, an alt-country tour-de-force, wavers between earnest, heartfelt love songs and combat-tinged sample-based interludes, forging, against all odds, an album that is stunningly seamless.
“Caroline, London 1940”, a song about a man hopelessly in love in the midst of a world at war, is a masterpiece. The love narrative is told lyrically (“Maybe the smoke has went away with the guns / I see the sun / Everything looks strange / Nothing will ever be the same again and / I see the sun / I feel it touch my face, I pray that there is change and someday / We will walk away, Caroline”) while the impending threat of war is conveyed musically, mostly via a relentless drum beat.
Sounding a lot like Beck Hanson circa Sea Change, Debiak invokes the perspective of a soldier’s wife on “Waiting” when he sings, “Evening changes / Voices so strange inside our home / I have stayed inside all alone / Time has never felt this long / But it doesn’t mean you’re gone / Waiting here for you to arrive”.
After The War is an album filled with emotion and yet remarkably free of melodrama. For those of us who don’t think a love story requires an exotic backdrop to be poignant, Sleep Station gratefully declines to employ its theme as a crutch. These songs stand on their own as odes that just so happen to take place before the backdrop of strife. Were these same human dramas enacted in present day Manhattan, for example, they’d bear just as much emotional weight.
On the terrific “Burden to You”, Debiak takes on the point-of-view of a deceased soldier commenting on his widow’s post-war life. “Allison,” he sings, “well I’m at a loss / Allison, baby I got caught spinning in circles / I could not get off / This whole world is open to you / Someday you will see it through”.
The acoustic guitar work throughout After the War sounds as though it’s hitched at the waist with the vocal work, preserving the kind of intimacy that defined early American folk (and, later, country) songs.
On “Silver in the Sun”, Sleep Station addresses war most directly, singing from the perspective of a fighter pilot struggling with the levity of his actions. “I can make mistakes / I am just human / And out of place”.
“With You Now” is about surviving the war and going back home to a woman who can’t begin to fathom the rift that now exists between she and her husband. Here Debiak’s voice reminds one of Roger Waters’ on “Wish You Were Here”. Subtle use of a heavily delayed electric guitar and slick drum and bass make this track a standout.
The production/engineering here is delicate and unobtrusive. And, fortunately, all the tracks sound as though they were cut in one flawless session. One flawless session in the 1940s: Sleep Station chose to record After the War using WWII era equipment, insofar as possible. According to Debiak, "We actually recorded a good portion on…ribbon and mushroom microphones and a few old amps. It was amazing that it all worked as well as it did. The end result sounds better than most of what we have access to today."
From the cover art, to the interludes, to the consistency of the songs, After the War manages to transport us to another time and place. Exotic? Yes. Universal? Absolutely.
Reviewed by: R. S. Ross
Reviewed on: 2004-06-15
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