Saturday, June 14, 2008
Sleep Well - Electric President
SCQ Rating: 92%
Morr Music, the independent label that grew to prominence amid electronica’s broadening from a dancefloor reaction to the soundtrack of your livingroom armchair, has pigeonholed itself into a precarious rut over the past few years. From Guther’s I Know You Know to this Spring’s Bobby and Blumm collaboration, Morr’s innovation of home-listening beat-patterns stagnated to such a degree, only the unassuming coyness of twee could properly compliment such diminishing returns. And while you have to respect the German imprint for standing by their narrow sonic margins so stringently, truth is, it’s difficult to justify buying a Morr album when you know exactly what it’ll sound like.
Electric President, besides representing Morr’s snail-quick acknowledgement of the guitar, never fit in. A duo from Florida of all places, Ben Cooper and Alex Kane recorded their self-titled debut in a tool-shed behind Cooper’s house. Bearing the electronic-rock tag that pitted them in the shadows of Postal Service, Electric President created fair buzz then dissipated into the trenches of eccentric/goofy indie-rock that plagued 2005’s college charts.
Sleep Well, their thirteen-month-in-the-making sophomore effort, is an entirely different beast; a gracefully distressed symphony of fevered intentions and darkened bedrooms that cause elation as often as shivers. As blurred as that imaginary moment where a dream becomes nightmare, many of these songs endure transformations that fail to carry any sign of closure; a strategy that abandons some of these tracks from becoming fully cohesive songs, but lends bravado to the album as a whole. Yes, you'll find several songs that are gorgeously compelling but it’s those transient tracks that embed the album with its shape-shifting heart; idea-packed movements through dark territory and harsh light for your inner narcoleptic.
What marks Sleep Well as such a devastatingly better album than its predecessor (and the duo as an entirely altered creative force) is how confidently they milk ideas from such a singular thematic focus: the nature of nightmares. As explained in Morr’s video promo for the release, Cooper discusses how he collected a scrapbook of nightmare accounts, written through the night or by morning, and eventually turned to the narratives for songwriting inspiration. Unlike that video, however, which goes to great lengths to either scare or convince us of Electric President’s newfound goth-cred, Sleep Well roundly encourages the notion that Cooper and Kane, who sounded like sarcastic arts students last time around, have truly ascended to a level of songcraft most bands die hoping for (to the point, in fact, that the video promo does more harm than good). The trancelike ‘We Will Walk Through Walls’, with its rich bass and cavernous melodies, moves hauntingly into ‘Graves and the Infinite Arm’, a creeping contrast that would be polarizing if not for the band’s seductive use of synths, which are as funereal as The Cure’s Faith era.
With any justice, this should crowd critic’s year-end lists and reinvigorate Morr Music from its comfortable coma. So fully realized and lovely, Sleep Well doesn’t seem ostracized from its label so much as evolved from Morr’s lush and pristine trademarks; no more than in closing track ‘When It’s Black’, an electronic minor-chord skeleton that grows into its piano, otherworldly chants, and erupts into a raging distorted guitar close. Neither the band nor label have ever rocked like this, and it’s a scorching end I still can’t wake up from.