reviewed by Chris Matei
Sometimes life throws you an interesting curveball: I found Michael and the Slumberland Band’s cassette tape release of Thousand Years Under the Sun lying in wait on an embankment on Georgia Street [in Vancouver].
There was no way I could pass up reviewing such a specimen: upon unpacking its contents, I found that the Slumberland Band lives stoically up to their name. Though not soporific, their music is the kind of thing that lurks in hallways, creeps in shadows – dark, doomful alt-folk with a depressive streak so wide it’s almost parodic. Creaking vocals, deep desert-night timbres evoking Alain Johannes, bone-rattling mysticism and feral energy all imbue this album with a deeply morose, tripped out direction.
The delicate stutter of tabla drumming blends with shimmery gunslinger guitar on tracks like “Mystic Hope” and “Beside the River,” while “Holed Up” lives up to its title – the vocals sound as if they might be emanating from a deep crevasse. Some songs here, like “Say What You Wanted” and “Raining in Your Heart” aim for edginess with scraping guitar outros that come off abrasively compared to the rest of the material. Others find a balance between doom for days and Desert Sessions bite – “Shell Shake” and “Long Run” form a solid mid-album pair, and “Keep Real Cool” is probably the strongest exploration of dark, sandblasted themes here.
Though absolutely drenched in atmosphere, there are some weird choices throughout: the title track, for instance, features the twanging of what I could only identify as a mouth harp. The somewhat hypnotically repetitive quality of certain songs is not always to their benefit, as on “Wallower”, where the lyric “not another miserable day!” finds itself tiresomely repeated until its effect seems to rub off on the listener.
Though lavish in the depth and colour of its sonic palette, Thousand Years Under the Sun isn’t the most listenable of experiences as a complete album. It shows ingenuity in spades when it comes to the crafting of unique sounds, but seems empty of real soulfulness or relatable pain at its centre, instead circling a drain of black-pencilled nihilism.
Top Tracks: “Shell Shake,” “Long Run,” “Keep Real Cool”
Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)