Sleep Whale – Houseboat

Sleep Whale - Houseboat

Sleep Whale - Houseboat

Using an acoustic guitar, cello, bass, violin, some field recordings and looped digital effects, Sleep Whale have bred and born an absorbing album. Their full-length debut, Houseboat, is a cross pollination of chamber, folk, ambient, and post-rock. Each track grows into an immersive distraction.

These drifting compositions are weaved by a North Texas duo who employ two additional musicians for live shows. Vocals are rare, and when they do come, they’re buried in echo. Otherwise, the sound is a collaboration of the guitar picking out some quiet chords, the string section slowly elevating and depressing the mood, and mixed sound effects filling space. The greatest variant between tracks is the percussion. Beats and rhythms come in nuanced taps, nervy clicks, soothing brushings, dull thuds, and crisp chimes. Cymbals, the consistent exception, often raise the volume in an otherwise hushed collection of lulling ambient music.

The album’s production is interesting because songs often sound like they’re half underwater and half in open air–ambient sounds and partial vocals stir in the murky channels, guitars sound clean and dry, and strings define the water line. And while the opening three tracks are solid, the longer and further out you let it drift, the better Houseboat sounds.

The album’s best begins with track 4, “Roof Sailing”. Here, fading strings move patiently while sounds ripple around you until the three minute mark when a quiet push enlivens the mix. It’s an effective moment. “Summer Sick” follows with light acoustic riffing and a slow marching beat. This track embodies one of the album’s main strengths: a wholly successful collaboration between acoustic instrumentation and ambient noise.

The album holds a number of transportive instrumental exercises and movements, including “Dissolved” and “Icicles”, but my favorite tracks swim through defined, distinct part changes, taking on a storytelling progression. “Still Drumming” and “Make Another Picture”, for example.

On “Still Drumming”, the acoustic guitar quietly chugs out chords, but then the guitar and mood lightens as the rest of the instruments take to the watery resistance. “Make Another Picture” points to heavy traces of freak folk as it navigates with tom drums and compelling sound effects.

Sleep Whale’s songwriting often follows a pattern, and elements can repeat from song to song, but this isn’t predictability so much as the same winds and tides ferrying us to different places. Houseboat, a unique hybrid of genres, is a solid, disarming debut.

Sleep Whale
Western Vinyl