Review Summary: What happens when Chino doesn't have Stephen Carpenter on his back, detuned 7-string Ibanez guitars and all.
Deftones have a much-romanticized story to their ascent to the top of the metal world. They were creating much more straight ahead nu-metal tracks up on Adrenaline
, made them more memorable and emotional on Around the Fur
, and added moody atmospheres and a DJ on White Pony
, which is remembered as one of the more important albums in their career and in the often blemished history of nu-metal. Following that was the weaker Deftones
and the awesome Saturday Night Wrist
. In there somewhere, the addition of "atmosphere" to Deftones' music all of a sudden elevated them to a higher level. It would be foolish to attribute all of that to the inclusion of the sampler/DJ Frank Delgado though he is very good at what he does. A lot of the Deftones' moments that favor ambience over power are the result of the singer Chino's infatuation with messing with tone and a hidden love of trip hop and shoegaze. That love is not so hidden anymore considering Team Sleep, a trip-hop/shoegaze side project of his, have already completed their second album to be released early 2008.
The most immediate questions to Team Sleep's style and aesthetic is with regard to how reliant they are of Deftones' sound and success. I'd have to say that they somewhat stick to that model. One of the best parts of Deftones, Chino's vocals, are still distinctive but don't bear the high melodrama of his performance for Deftones' and in general his voice is much more ethereal and wistful, fitting the trip hop style. This result means his vocals don't have the same impact, but his performance is still awesome if just a propos for the intended genres. Similarly, there are tracks that could easily fit onto a Deftones record ("Blvd Nights" and "Live from the Stage") for their pulsing drums, big, distorted chords, and emotional gravity, but most of them feel like they're even too fringe or harmonically weird to act as a track like "Teenager" or "Lucky You." So, Team Sleep has maintained some elements but are too different to be compared to the Deftones style instead of contrasted.
An interesting aspect of this album is that despite its electronica and hip hop veneers, it's still a guitar album from somebody who clearly grew up on rock music. The guitar is dominant on every single song on this album and the interplay between vocals, guitar, and drums (which are often live instead of electronic) obeys the laws of most rock music (verse-chorus-verse structure, soft-loud dynamics, etc.). There are digitally produced atmospherics as to be expected, but the coolest part is that their weirdness or distinctiveness are outshone by those of the guitar. The guitar imitates a piano with an uncanny quality on the eerie "Tomb of Liegia," which is a really startling, cool effect. The guitars' sync with the vocals on the chorus of "11 11" is awesome and makes the song. It's nice to hear the guitar have such a strong role in a project where it could have drowned in the production.
And with regard to the production - amazing. Chino and DJ Crook must have spent a long time making sure that ever background noise, varied blip, and tone that comes into the mix is well conceived and appropriate. There is a ton of detail to every single corner of this album. The vinyl sounds and guitar distortions in the opening of "Tomb of Liegia" is a perfect example. It sets the mood accurately and effectively. The atmospheres are perfectly creeping and ominous (which owes a lot to the interesting harmonic choices at the guitar level) and I could have asked for anything more in that department. The beats are also great and can range from faster, claustrophobic electronics ("Paris Arm") to natural rock drumming ("Blvd Nights") and straight trip hop ("Princeton Review"). I just wish there had been more variety overall to the style. It seemed like they had a few heavier songs that were like Deftones songs and then the rest of the album was just brooding and ambient. It would be nice to see Chino try his hand at some happier sounding songs (they can still be weird) to vary the album.
Which brings me to the primary problem with this album: the whole album is not greater than the sum of its parts. There seems to be little effort undertaken to ensure that this album flowed really well and it drags at some points. Being privy to some of their demos that didn't make the album, I imagine Chino did a typical recording device, recording too many tracks for an album and picking out his favorites to keep. Unfortunately this gave the record a jutting quality from song-to-song and makes this feel like a compilation of individual ideas rather than a unified whole. But who am I to complain? Those ideas are typically awesome. If this were a track-by-track review I'd be wetting myself at times, but looking at the album as a whole, it's not nearly as enjoyable and interesting as it could of been because it bores and waddles in its 3rd quarter and suffers from a lot of repetition.
So, if you're a fan of trip hop, shoegaze, Deftones, Chino, or hey, let's just say "good music," check this out. If you're unconvinced in the overall quality of the album, at least try out the recommended tracks. The atmosphere, guitar tricks, awesome vocals, and great songwriting alone should be enough to ensnare anybody.
Recommended Tracks: Ever, Blvd Nights, Tomb of Liegia, 11 11