Sleep Station – Runaway Elba-1

Sleep Station
Runaway Elba-1

Do you like robots? Me, too. Do you like concept albums? Me neither. Actually, I like concept albums sometimes, but it requires a great band to truly make it successful. Sleep Station’s sophomore release, Runaway Elba-1, is a concept album. And since Sleep Station isn’t unanimously considered a “great” band (yet), I was worried about what they had to offer. Fortunately, the band doesn’t go overboard with the whole concept, which is a very good thing. So what exactly is the concept of the album? Well, it’s a loose story about the late Ellis Booffar falling in love with Elba-1, a robot created by Booffar. Cute, huh?
Sleep Station has been compared to bands ranging from Mercury Rev and Air to the Beatles and Flaming Lips. The thing is, it’s really hard to compare them to any band. It’s actually pretty strange; the band pride themselves on not being the future of music, but rather the music of the present. So their music isn’t all that original. Just think ready-made song structures and cookie-cutter chord progressions.
Elba-1 is an amalgam of songs, ranging from pop-rock to fragile acoustic numbers. Each song has a 60s, 70s pop feel to it. This can be credited to singer/guitarist/songwriter David Debiak. His voice has a modest tone that floats above the sweet guitar sounds; and the melodies that he creates are insanely catchy.
“Frustrations of Leaving” may be the strongest song on the album. Its dragging demeanor and plaintive vocals soar above the beautiful minor and major-seventh guitar chords. Even an ambient sound is injected into the track, propelling the song further than any other track on the album. “For You” is equally strong: Delicate harmonies and reverb-drenched instruments nourish the album with a dream-like quality.
The album’s strength derives from the intimacy of the acoustic guitar, while the louder songs usually detract from the flowing, personal nature of the album. “Chicago” appears twice on the album; one is an acoustic number, the other is a full band rocker. As with most of the album, the acoustic version is much better. Though “Karen 1%” adds needed variety, it is the weakest song on the album. It has a great Michael Stipe impersonation, though. Any of the acoustic songs could have fit nicely in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous.
As far as instrumentation, the band is tighter than my neighbor’s braces, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little more personality. Aside from Debiak, the rest of the band does not add a whole lot of personality, leaving an indifferent feeling about the amount of talent the band possess.
When it comes down to it, Elba-1 is a surprisingly great listen. I found it very easy to listen to repeatedly, which is odd for me since I’m partial to experimental noodling. Usually it’s those experimental albums that have lasting ability, but this album has the ability to keep its freshness without relying on gimmicks and alien sounds. It’s times like these when I have a renewed faith in simple, rock music that deal with robots.