reviewed by Chris Matei
The title of Abby Maxwell’s latest seems appropriate: the album feels as though it may have been composed across the starry black negative space of a single night. It’s intimate, sparse and homespun: the kind of lilting, lullabying folk tunes that could be the bread and butter of an early-stage Laura Marling, Cat Power or Scout Niblett.
The intent here is clearly to produce a vulnerable, poetic record: one whose lyrical depths and close-to-the-skin feel impress more than its ostensibly bedroom-recorded sonics. The longing, need and grief of “Marielle”, for example, make for a compelling listen. However, Sleepless often feels like the work of a writer first, songwriter second – the album’s intricately gray-shaded narration reveals layers of emotion that are not quite matched by the songs themselves, which tend to repeat and meander around their spare, strummy motifs.
Maxwell essentially does one thing on Sleepless, and does it reasonably well: reverb blanketing warm vocals as they wander through the night, lit up with signposts on the downbeats made from sparkling acoustic fretwork, rough-hewn uke and banjo. Some of this material positively aches for just a bit of fleshing out – a ghostly piano line here, a woody string swell… Sleepless also sounds crisp and balanced on a laptop, but a closer listen betrays a fair bit of mud (especially in the otherwise so centric vocals) – the sign of needing just a touch more in the production stage as well.
There’s a closeness to Sleepless that puts you practically right on the polished frets, right in the room (on “Sleep Sounds” and “Love Me Good” in particular), but there’s a cost to that kind of detail as well: it makes you start looking for the bigger picture, where the album is unfortunately less grounded than it could be.
Top Tracks: “Love Me Good,” “Marielle,” “Sleep Sounds”
Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)