Published on February 6th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Sleepy Sun – Maui Tears
San Francisco’s psych rock outfit Sleepy Sun were riding a runaway train of street cred, not only with their albums ‘Embrace’ and ‘Fever,’ but also by touring through the darkest holes in North America, putting on free shows, which they did in my hometown a couple of years back. However, we all got a serious case of whiplash (and not the awesome metal kind) when that train hit an adamantium wall with the resounding splat that was their lacklustre third album, ‘Spine Hits.’
First off, prior to recording the album, singer Rachel Fannan left after some kind of incident in a flurry of vague accusations about the band being difficult to work with and even worse at working with women. It would be easy to blame the misfire of ‘Spine Hits’ on the loss of Fannan’s goliath-like vocals (seriously, that shit was crazy live), but it was really more about soggy songwriting and some arguably homogenizing production (the album was produced by Dave Catching of Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age).
It’s not like their sound changed radically, even after losing Fannan, but most of the album felt like passionless blah rock, trading wizards, yawning suns, and epic desert jams for indie pop or Top 40 rock radio aspirations. Even the cover of ‘Spine Hits’ looks out of place in their catalogue, like it’s some kind of tired Brooklyn art installation. ‘Spine Hits’ reminded me of how much I dislike Metallica’s watered down ‘Black’ album. It sounded like Metallica, it looked like Metallica, but like Maverick after Goose died, it was a Metallica that had completely lost its edge.
But enough shitting on ‘Spine Hits,’ seeing as this is a write up on their new record, ‘Maui Tears,’ which sees them climbing out of the wreckage of my earlier train metaphor and climbing into a supersonic jet (“I’ll fire when I’m goddamn good and ready! You got that?!” Sorry. Couldn’t resist). From now on, I’m just going to pretend that ‘Maui Tears’ is their third album, absolving them of ‘Spine Shits.’ Everyone gets misplaced once in awhile, but Sleepy Sun has made an album worthy of their previous efforts here.
Bret Constantino is drenched in reverb and holding court, winding around each song like a calmer, more regal version of banshee Perry Farrell. It’s still a different vocal sound without Fannan (duh), but it holds its own perfectly well. We haven’t lost the essence of the band and Constantino doesn’t sound like he’s preening for rock radio this time around.
While they might not quite touch ‘Fever’ or ‘Embrace,’ these are much better songs than found on ‘Spine Hits.’ They have more than one dimension, weight and depth, bringing back the psychedelic shag carpets and blistering feedback the band is known for. Sleepy Sun has always understood dynamics well, and the songs sway back and forth between air guitar-inducing riffage and airlock anti-gravity numbers that slow the clock. The album as a whole is probably more stoned than hard, and that’s okay, but it’s at its best when they start throwing chugging riffs at the walls like monkeys flinging crap.
It’s not their best album, it’s not doing anything you haven’t heard before, and there are some rough patches here and there. But I have to admit that when I heard ‘Maui Tears’ the first time, I breathed a sigh of relief that they had abandoned the more accessible, but bone dry direction of the last album to strike forth once more into the breach of uncharted drug trips and free flowing songwriting. Sleepy Sun fans can be pleased at another solid album. I’m looking forward to catching them live again when their dusty caravan blows through town like so much smoke.