The Big Sleep
Son of the Tiger
he difference in neural activity between a brain's waking state and REM sleep is so small that the latter is often called "paradoxical sleep," which isn't a bad description of the shoegaze and dreampop now old enough for every other new band to list as an influence. These records, like Loveless for example, played like collections of sabotaged lullabies, catching listeners in a dangerously narrow demilitarized zone between the sleep called for by the songs' hazy croon and the alertness demanded by their sheer volume. It's a hard line to toe, but Brooklyn-based three-piece The Big Sleep, whose sound isn't homogenous enough for shoegaze—but trades in the same paradoxes—succeed often enough to make their debut LP Son of the Tiger compulsively and lastingly listenable.
Raymond Chandler aside, The Big Sleep's combination of name and aesthetic is a gutsy move: this is exactly the kind of thick, meandering music, heavy on the multitracking and light on the vocals, that if done badly would merely allow satisfied critics to note that the band is selling precisely what they advertise. But there's too much life here for that—too much in the prog-rock stomp drummer Gabriel Rhodes cheerfully slathers across churning pop like "Murder"; too much in the billowing guitar Danny Barria casts over "S.K.B."; and too much, particularly, in Sonya Balchandani's bass, which in one of Son of the Tiger's wisest moves is given what amounts to an entire track of its own. "You Can't Touch the Untouchable," driven by a slowly loosening bass line that carefully skirts the edge of mood music, is a highlight—as is the title track, also Balchandani's show; she not only steadily supports the song's hyperactive menace but turns in a hazy vocal performance that's one of her best.
Granted, there isn't much to consider in judging this category: over half of the songs here are instrumentals, and when Balchandani's voice appears it's usually as a muted drawl, conspicuously secondary even when it's not pushed to the back of the mix. "Murder" features her as a kind of rhythm section, flatly reciting lyrics more important for their circular euphony than for their content ("Function is meaning and life is time / Time is word and word is life," etc.).
But this isn't an EP padded into a full-length with half a dozen instrumentals—the wordless tracks are the meat of the record, and if songs like the draggy "Menemy" could stand a word or two, seven-minute album closer "New Strings" is possibly the best thing here. Like any prog-rock climax worth its salt it starts small, ends big, and feeds in its pupal state on a burgeoning whirl of feedback, fret squeaks, and echoes; when a howling, glassy guitar tumbles in beneath the song's wings at the four-minute mark, the fact that it's exactly what you were expecting doesn't make it sound any less like waves breaking while lighthouse beams gratuitously swipe the camera lens. It's a song deeply convinced of hackneyed ideas about how to end a rock album, and yet it's catchy and buoyant and unselfconsciously epic enough to succeed, just as Son of the Tiger is catchy and buoyant and unselfconscious enough to survive its aesthetic—that is, to be a good record. God save us from wildly hyped Brooklyn bands, but The Big Sleep have made a good record, one with occasional but forgivable flaws, and there's more to celebrate here than our continued wakefulness.