Review Summary: Sleep Parade sidestep the stereotypes of their genre without breaking a sweat, crafting a sufficiently unique and interesting piece of music that refuses to be forgotten or ignored.
Sleep Parade certainly aren't the first band in recent times to move towards a softer, more "indie" sound, nor is it likely that they'll be the last. The dizzy-eyed, multi-layered, shimmering sound of semi-whispered vocals, glimmering keyboards and evocative lyrics is one that has become fiercely popular over recent years, and Sleep Parade would seem to be just the latest to jump on the bandwagon. Almost entirely ditching the progressive-oriented, guitar-based, hard-rocking aesthetic of their debut Things Can Always Change
is almost certainly going to be a fan-alienating release. But is that an excuse to disregard it? Definitely not.
The tracklisting of the album certainly reflects a desire from the band to ease both old and new listeners into their new style, as the three hard-rocking, guitar-led songs that relate most to their old style are placed at the beginning of the album, and the more pop- and indie-focused tracks follow thereafter. However, this leads to a slight problem in that songs of the same style are lumped together in groups of three or more rather than being spread out throughout the album's duration, which leads to a tangible feeling of repetition or "same-ness" that betrays the amount of experimentation present; a problem which could be easily solved by spreading the songs of different styles present throughout the album. This is, however, just a small nitpick in the grand scheme of things.
Opener "Devil's Door" is a fun, pounding number that begins the album on a high and shows that the band have not entirely forsaken their roots, a vibe followed up on by track three "Collisions". It is immediately clear that vocalist Leigh Davies has made monumental progress since Things Can Always Change
in 2008. While in the past, he stuck mostly to the same pitch and tone and occasionally became a detriment to the music, on Inside/Out
he has matured into a confident and versatile performer, utilising his familiar mid-range pitch alongside an unexpectedly effective falsetto and an almost John Frusciante-esque lower range. He is also noticeably singing a lot more from the heart this time around; the absence of which was a noticeable downside to Things Can Always Change
, especially for an album themed around Davies' father's mental illness. Instrumentally, Sleep Parade reveal themselves to have embraced the tropes of indie rock to their fullest ability - lush keyboards and echoey guitars build a tangible atmosphere throughout the album's runtime that perfectly suits its direction and ambition.
Once the first three songs on the album have rocked themselves out, the band moves headfirst into their new style with second single "2:09", a slow-building and reserved track that stands as one of the highlights of the album. From here on, Sleep Parade doesn't look back, delivering track after track of catchy yet sophisticated, joyful yet reminiscent indie rock. Not until track #8 does a deviation from this norm occur, with album standout "The River". With its acoustic guitar, tapping feet, backing "whoa-oh"s and even harmonica sections, the song strongly recalls the Dear Hunter's Green EP
, yet surprisingly manages to provide the album's most heartwarming and affectionate moment when Davies lovingly croons "Hey my father where are you, I really hope you're doing well, the deepest ocean runs between, someday we'll see eye to eye".
In fact, most of the album's best moments are saved for its second half. "Home" provides an almost pop-punk sense of enthusiasm and catchiness to support one of the album's best choruses, as Davies wails "Your secret war's not over", tackling a tricky but well-executed lyrical subject concerning politics and society. Penultimate track "Open Your Eyes" boasts a Throwing Copper-era Live-esque chorus over the album's best-realised atmosphere, largely thanks to the keyboard work of guitarists Red Black and Mitch Finglas, building to a fantastically cathartic and emotional climax of "Years are rolling by, life's too short to wonder why". Finally, closer and title track "Inside/Out" provides an ambitious mix of both Sleep Parade's styles, merging the instrumentation of Inside/Out
with the more complex and fleshed-out song structures of Things Can Always Change
, recalling the slow-building epic "Headstorm" from the band's 2010 Mr Identify EP
. It may seem to end the album on a rather underwhelming and abstract note, especially given the massive standards set by Things Can Always Change
closer "Weeping Walls", but over time it reveals itself as a powerful yet subdued statement with which to end the album.
There are a few problems to be found here and there - only naturally, as the band settles into their new style. "Dancing With the Enemy" is a bewildering choice for a first single, falling short of its own ambition due to the absence of a discernible hook or effective melody as well as cheesy lyrics, and ends up being the weakest link in the album's chain. "Oxygen", meanwhile, starts with a fantastic showcase of Leigh Davies' lower range, and does a commendable job of building up tension with background chanting and a pounding drumbeat, however it falls flat on its face due to a mediocre, ill-fitted chorus.
Ultimately, Sleep Parade are bound to experience some backlash from Inside/Out
; "sellouts" is a word bound to roll off the tounges of more than a few disgruntled fans. Yes, Sleep Parade are just the latest to jump on the indie bandwagon, but that doesn't mean they're content to become sheep; they have waved off the expectations of their listeners seemingly carelessly, and have crafted an entirely different beast that simultaneously explores a new territory for the band without mindlessly conforming to the clichés that would be expected to accompany this sort of indie rock. It's a genre that absolutely begs for the listener to make an emotional attachment, yearning to use its atmosphere and splendour to make us recall memories, both good and bad, that we can attach to the music; and yet Sleep Parade sidestep this tried-and-tested stereotype without breaking a sweat, crafting a sufficiently unique and interesting piece of music that refuses to be forgotten or ignored.