he on / off status of Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno’s other project Team Sleep has infuriated people for about four years now. After 2002’s almost completed debut LP was leaked via the internet, and was subsequently scrapped, it began to look like it was all over before it could really begin. But this leak was a mixed blessing, giving the band a chance to fine-tune and ditch material that while strong, just didn’t fit their collective vision (cf. the stomping Mike Patton collaboration on the now lost “Kool Aid Party”).
But as with most things coveted by boys in thick-framed glasses and cooler-than-thou t-shirts, the finished article just can’t live up to expectations. If you fiddle with something too long, it’s going to end up going a little limp on you. For all the album’s positives, every so often there’s a vaguely perceivable contrived polish on the ramshackle elements of the song; this will sound broken, this will sound accidental, this will sound like I did it fucked up on skunk in a hotel room under the shifting glare of a hotel TV tuned to channel zero. The real Team Sleep debut probably should’ve lain more equally between the two LPs; more four-track and less Ross Robinson.
In a direct comparison with his Deftones day job, this is most reminiscent of the softer, weirder more fragmented and less rocking parts of White Pony. And at the very least, this loosening of the chains of expectation will have given Moreno and co. the chance to experiment with a wider palette. There is no longer the need to get belligerent on some fat riffs to get attention. If you’re looking for some obvious touchstones for the album think of Mezzanine helmed by a non-paranoid stoner with a half-volume Tricky on drum programming and the beginnings of The Cure’s drift into the dark (Faith particularly). There are little jigsaw-piece sized bites on other band’s styles on Team Sleep like the mean NiN bass on “Ataraxia” (which never really sounds coherent) or the Stereolab sounds on “King Diamond,” but you can see a individual voice shining through in places. It’s not as obvious or as contrived as the creation of a trip-hop Mogwai (check the entwining guitars on “Delorian”) or Deftones on guitar rationing, it manages to sound on the whole muse-led.
The main thing that you have to love about Chino, apart from that beard, is his way-worn and lost vocals: vocals that sound homesick—secretive, almost romantic, and explicit about something in particular. How all this works is not exactly obvious: it’d be interesting to see Team Sleep go in a more ‘Massive Attack collective’ direction in the future, but with a stronger eye towards their collaborative partners. Some of the work with Pinback’s Rob Crow falls a little too heavily in Crow’s court (a bad thing) and for every heavenly Paul Simon moment (“Princeton Review”) or delicate Cure guitar-led vocal harmonies (“Our Ride to the Rectory”), there’s the clunky indie folktronica of “11:11” to flatten the mood. Helium’s Mary Timony delivers the records definitive clunker with “Tomb of Liegia” which seems to strive for atmosphere through her heavy OTT mournful delivery. It stands out even more when compared to tracks that seem to be evolved as opposed to constructed, like “Elizabeth” energetic percussive acoustic strum or “Paris Arm”’s almost Mobb Deep styled obsessive / romantic (take your pick) poetic pining that could’ve been ripped straight from Robert Smith’s little black book.
But its tracks two and three that really show that the Sleep have staggered into a seam worthy of further investigation, “Your Skull is Red” skips into Ride-like waves, minus the feedback maelstrom, through out of sync plummeting drums and flute like tuning while “Ever (Foreign Flag)” seals the Team Sleep ethos up in a lunchtime ziploc. The reverberating croon, stalling hippy bass, mixed-too-high drum track, and crafted tiny distant breaks give all the project’s ingredients a fitting natural comfortable bed, creating, by my count, five perfect “moments in pop.” The expectations of the LP may have got the better of the band, with some of the extra construction work done here, but the moments of baggy-trousered genius here are worthy of the investment.