Review Summary: Both progressive & poppy, this is a sincere & deceptively catchy rock LP.
It can be a fine line between pleasure and pain… Love and hate… Genius and madness. In the music industry; it can be a fine line between striking it big and being just another one of the thousands of run-of-the-mill artists plying their trade worldwide. One hit single can be all that it takes to transform also-rans into career-long bankable sellers. Hell, in some cases, it can be as little as a gimmicky video, a great publicity campaign, or even a good old-fashioned controversy of some kind! Long Island quintet The Sleeping have seemingly been on the cusp of a giant leap forward ever since they released their debut LP in 2004. Single ‘Don’t Hold Back’ laid the foundation by landing spots on Guitar Hero 3 & Madden ’07, while killer 2009 cut ‘Bomb the World’ may have just been an unfortunate song title away from breaking the band into the big time. Come fourth album ‘The Big Deep’; commercial success looks to be the last thing The Sleeping are concerned with.
The band’s 2009 release - the energetic, up-tempo and heavy ‘What It Takes’ – shot for the stars looking for a greater audience, and while its successor’s opener ‘Dark Days’ begins with similar wailing guitars, thumping drums and pronounced bass-lines, ‘The Big Deep’ quickly veers away from such an immediate sound. One need only look at the song titles – ‘Dark Days’, ‘Beautiful Gloom’, ‘Black Waves’ and ‘The Phantom of Darker Clouds’ – to realize this will not reach the top of the charts. Yet, it is also not as dark and melancholy as it would appear, with an “every cloud has a silver lining” connotation to most of the lyrics. The general theme is of learning from reaching one’s lowest points and putting them behind you. “On my way down, saw a different side of the moonlight” states the catchy chorus of highlight ‘Beautiful Gloom’, while the refrain on ‘Deafening the UK’ asks “What’s the use in hiding when you’re down?” before prompting “Pick yourself off the ground”.
Previously categorized as post-hardcore, The Sleeping do not submit to genre trends on ‘The Big Deep’, instead focusing more on texture and atmosphere, making them more difficult to compartmentalize. In addition to a greater reliance on Chris Evans’ electronics, there is little outright screaming from Doug Robinson here. In fact, as the album progresses, Robinson’s distinctively raspy vocals fade into the background a little, allowing the band’s superior musicianship a chance to impress. If anything, there is more of an alternative rock vibe apparent and this allows the band to subtly explore waters previously uncharted. This is a positive in most cases throughout this relatively consistent LP, however some listeners may feel that ‘The Big Deep’ gets a little too one-paced at times. Loyal fans will welcome the quintet’s hallmark mid-album jazz break that is ‘The Phantom of Darker Clouds’, but will they feel similarly about the foray into unmemorable radio-rock that is the jangly ‘Oh, Gloria’?
If there is one track which sums ‘The Big Deep’ up best, it is its oddly titled closer and lead single ‘Young Vibes… Don’t Run Away From Me’. Containing an extended intro of sorts, it initially suggests anything but being an album's forerunner. Nonetheless, this bass-driven cut is deceptively catchy and shows The Sleeping as a rock band who are able to successfully combine both their progressive and poppy nature. This amalgamation of styles means that ‘The Big Deep’ is unlikely to win over many new fans, since it is not as immediate as its predecessor. Yet, by switching the production duties back from Brian McTernan to Michael Birnbaum & Chris Bittner (who produced their first two LP’s), it is an album which is destined to reveal itself over multiple listens and have greater replay value. So no matter what audience ‘The Big Deep’ finds, one must respect The Sleeping for this sincere and passionate performance… For this truly is now a band that feel comfortable in their own skin.
Recommended Tracks: Beautiful Gloom, Young Vibes… Don’t Run Away From Me, The Big Deep & Dark Days.