The Big Sleep – Son of the Tiger

The Big Sleep
Son of the Tiger

“Dream pop” seems these days to be another way of saying “shoegaze.” Maybe it’s because shoegaze went out of fashion a while back, and its proponents needed a way to bring it back without stigma. In any case, The Big Sleep has done a fine job of making this kind of music — whatever you call it — engaging and worthwhile. The French Kiss label has put out a lot of good albums and Son of the Tiger lives up to the label’s track record.

Surprisingly, The Big Sleep’s big sound comes courtesy of its sustained, delayed guitars (the hallmark of shoegaze) but unlike most of its peers, the band favors instrumentals over vocal-based tracks. Without the benefit of vocals, it can be tougher for a song to keep things interesting. You can keep things short or you can get all mathy or you can take the listener on a ride. The Big Sleep’s music alternates between escapism and drive. Or it combines the two. And the tracks with vocals top the sound with gentle female vocals to offset the space and the ruckus. The spacious guitars recall Nick McCabe’s work in The Verve.

Opening cut “Brown Beauty” speeds along like something you might expect from an early Queens of the Stone Age album. It’s more rock than a lot of the other cuts and it gives you a clue as to why the band cites Led Zeppelin as an influence. Following that is the excellent “Murder.” Another up-tempo song, this time with vocals, wins because it sounds like it would have fit perfectly on Prolapse’s very cool Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes album from a few years ago. Its formula of driving music underpinning softly spoken, repetitive female singing still works today, apparently.

The Big Sleep slows things way down for “SKB.” Its spacious guitar chords sound wide and full, and even though sparsely played they complete the sound in much they same way For Against was able to do this on Echelons. Bassist Sonya’s singing adds a touch of sadness to the song, echoed by a particular guitar chord that is repeated somewhat infrequently and visited only briefly but nonetheless carries the song. Like “SKB,” “Menemy” has a methodical pacing to it. These two songs will resonate with anyone who enjoyed early Lilys records.

“Locomotion” lives up to its name by getting away from the meditation and back into the rock a little. It does slow things down here and there just to provide some contrast to the energy of the other passages. “Shima” again evinces some kind of Prolapse influence, but it also sounds like Slowdive when it gets grand. The title track goes for a big rock sound when it’s not lazily drifting along with its quiet keyboard-and-vocal duet. It’s a standard study in the power of loud after period of soft. Album closer “New Strings” features a pretty and echoing guitar figure a la Durutti Column repeated many many times, backed by a descending bassline and a huge feedback-driven storm kept in the background but always threatening to break through. If it goes on a little too long, that’s fine. It’s one way to close an album like this: touch on some of the approaches that made the other songs really good and bring them together at the end.