War Against Sleep – Messages

War Against Sleep is the troubled liquor dream of one Duncan Fleming, an obviously troubled young man based in Bristol, England. Known for formerly touring solo with only a piano and his baritone croon, Fleming has fleshed out his band for Messages to include a number of other instrumentalists. There remains, however, a sense of chilling isolation in his music; it’s obvious that the other members of his band are there simply to channel his own ideas, and that the stage is a conduit for his personal frustrations and ruminations.

Messages starts off pretty weird and doesn’t look back. “The Cord” is a piano-led, ratchet-backed ballad about a cord that simultaneously binds and strangles a couple. Midway through, a wonderfully forlorn guitar lick unfolds across the rather sparse landscape. The next track, “Evil Aliens,” features a pretty compelling verse in which Fleming sings, “Evil aliens in the sky / everybody’s going to die / are they evil? / yes, of course / I watched them mutilate this horse.” Strange doesn’t cover the half of it.

“Brother 12” is an extremely uncomfortable song in which Fleming croons over a rumbling tom beat with guitars periodically chiming in with gentle notes. About halfway through, a cheery guitar strums an island chord progression and off-kilter synths massacre the harmony. “My Little Stone” is built around a haunting, alien guitar melody and showcases some of Fleming’s most forlorn balladry.

However, while individual songs work quite well, the album as a whole falls desperately flat. Fleming trades in sparse, dramatic, forlorn songs about love, loss, and love lost; this pattern gets painfully tired after 12 long tracks. After three consecutive songs, the listener doesn’t quite know whether to fall asleep, hold his significant other, or commit suicide. Needless to say, I can’t imagine sitting through one of Fleming’s sets.

I can recommend Messages to those of us who revel in listening to a songwriter drain his innermost nightmares onto a microphone over dissonant sonic landscapes and don’t mind a slow pace and little differentiation. For the rest of us, I’d stick to acts like Smog who can tackle this loosely-defined genre with defter songwriting skill.