Music Reviews

Sleepy Sun Embrace

(ATP) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Sleepy Sun takes a certain amount of pride in its weirdness, but this should surprise no one with even a vague understanding of California geography and culture. The band is based in San Francisco, for starters, but the kicker is that it moved there from Santa Cruz – the latter-day hippie capital of the world – and it’s with the former locale that Embrace clearly identifies. One listen to the first drum beats of the stoned-yet-militaristic New Age evokes images of a Peter Pan-style pow-wow complete with a communal peace pipe. But, as the rest of this hard-hitting track proves, Sleepy Sun isn’t as bizarre as it might think. Sure, three of the eight tracks go over seven minutes, but the band is so rooted in rock classicism that it actually sounds like a 1970s metal band hiding behind a wall of stained glass and a billow of bong smoke.

Lord, with its gospel piano, is a psychedelic psalm – a defeated sinner’s prayer for redemption (specifically, sections of Psalm 119 come to mind). “Oh Lord, show me sign of power. Rid thy world of all the cowards. Oh soul, we'll find our own savior, deep down in the coldest winter,” vocalists Rachel Williams and Bret Constantino sing in harmony and with enough reverb to suggest an empty cathedral. The religiosity is probably not ironic, here.

As with any album that features epic, largely instrumental tracks, pacing is paramount, and Sleepy Sun does an excellent job breaking up the Goliath tracks with hit-and-runs like Red/Black and with some lovely acoustic numbers. One of these, Golden Artifact, is like a pastoral romance set in the 1960s, and the faint pipes and bells in the background are such that you can practically smell the exhaust fumes from Ken Kesey’s “Furthur” bus.

Embrace’s highlight, White Dove, borrows both its imagery and scope from the Old Testament flood narrative, and the opening riffs and the effects-coated electric guitar solo come straight out of the hard-rock bible. The fact that this nine-minute song never bores is impressive enough. More than that, this is the band’s flagship song. Word has it that Sleepy Sun whittled New Age from about fifteen minutes of material. My instinct upon hearing this is to thank God for editing, but then again, this fact suggests how many solid ideas they may have in store for their follow-up.