Review Summary: Pleasant but predictable indie-rock that will leave you feeling about the same as you did before you started listening.
Goldenboy is a band that has supported its fair share of huge acts – from front man Shon Sullivan’s early collaborations with Elliott Smith to the band’s touring alongside the likes of Bright Eyes, Grandaddy, and Neil Finn. Their debut album Blue Swan Orchestra
was only a slight deviation from Elliott Smith’s overarching influence, and 2006’s Underneath the Radio
brought several new band members to the table in hopes to expand Goldenboy’s sonic palette. To date, the band has not experienced what you might call a “breakthrough moment”, and their third LP entitled Sleepwalker
aims for that benchmark with its five years in the making to which Sullivan commented, “It all has to do with not looking at the clock, taking our time, and trying to really develop the arrangements and the feel of the sound.” Unfortunately for Goldenboy, time doesn’t appear to be the issue.
It is clear throughout Sleepwalker
that ambience plays an important role in each song’s progression. As the title suggests, the record has something of a sleepy
feel to it, which for many artists can be like playing with fire. If you are going to opt to stick with the same slow and unvaried tempos throughout, you’d better make damn certain that there are some interesting things going on either instrumentally, lyrically, or with the album’s production to hold the listener’s attention. Sleepwalker
isn’t vapid per se, but every song (especially over the latter half) suffers from predictable song structures, fairly basic percussion, and acoustic strumming that will lull you to sleep…and not in the good way. Sometimes echoes and reverb are thrown in for good measure to nail that ambient sensation they seem to be chasing, but it comes across as either lazy or labored most of the time. Either way, Goldenboy seems to be going through the motions and not attempting anything outside of the box, something that really caps the potential of any alternative rock/indie output.
Despite the noticeable shortcomings in the creativity department, Sleepwalker
still possesses a handful of redeeming tracks. “Chelsea Girl” rings in with a bubbling piano introduction that arrives like a breath of fresh air, and the subtle female backing vocals add a touch of personality to an album that doesn’t display much of it anywhere else. “Anna Said” is perhaps the most noteworthy track here, simply because Shon Sullivan steps up with a pleasing vocal melody that carries the song’s otherwise (yet again) unremarkable instrumentation. The title track is a rewarding late-album find, as Elliott Smith’s influence is once again so thick you could cut it with a knife. The sensitive crooning and whisper-style vocals work much more appropriately with the atmospheric, alternative style of music that Goldenboy employs; and it is never more apparent than when it is placed in direct contrast to the other back-end tracks on this album. There are diamonds in the rough to be found on Sleepwalker
, but even those periodically found gems succeed on the basis of their formulaic soft rock execution…not by way of experimentation or uniquely tangible attributes.
Somehow, after several years in the making, Sleepwalker
still manages to sound underdeveloped. And after three albums, one can only conclude that the band's consistently generic output is no accident. More than anything else, Sleepwalker
suffers because nothing really happens
. Have you ever watched a movie where from the opening moments to the closing credits, absolutely nothing of significance occurs? It might be somewhat enjoyable while you are watching, but by the time you leave the theater, you are left with nothing to take away from the experience. The exact same feeling could be applied to Sleepwalker
, in which Shon Sullivan & co. seem to just be kind of chilling out and not doing much of anything at all. This is pleasant driving music for the morning commute, but alas, nothing more.