Review Summary: I would rather be safe from a distance than here...Ghosts
was a restrained yet joyous affair, reflecting Sleeping at Last's excitement at a major-label debut, but the band played too safely, not using Ryan O'Neal vocals to their fullest extent and limiting their sound. Keep No Score
showed the band spreading their wings and expanding their sound, incorporating stunning orchestral arrangements and largely abandoning the alt-rock focus of their previous album, but inexperience led to a less consistent album that didn't flow nearly as well. Following Storyboards
, the band released a series of EPs representing months of the year, throughout which O'Neal slowly took more and more control over the band's output until the remaining members left. Storyboards
is a further expansion on their early sound, at a point in the band's lifetime when they were experienced enough to make it work, and where Ryan O'Neal had reached his creative peak but had not shut out the contributions from the remaining band members, leading to their most diverse album yet.
Quaint album opener 'Porcelain' begins with a simple, catchy ukelele melody that stays for the full duration of the song, driving it onwards through all it's twists and turns. O'Neal croons of the dangers of intimacy, vocals rising and falling alongside violins and cellos, with percussion taking a back seat and simply providing a light structure for the music to weave around. Though the song follows a fairly predictable pattern, 'Porcelain' is the perfect opener because it provides a summary of the bands previous works in one package, taking the simplistic structure of Ghosts
and the expansive instrumentation of Keep No Score
, but combining them perfectly in a way that outshines both. This immediately shows the listener that they have learned from their mistakes and discovered their strengths from their past releases, and have improved significantly since. The album often falls back on this style throughout it's run-time, and though this would often lend itself to a lack of variation and stagnation, the band have perfected this sound and know exactly when to change pace to keep the album sounding fresh.
The most memorable portions of the album are these tracks that eschew their typical formula. 'Naive' is a delicate, personal ballad containing only O'Neal and his piano, wherein he bares his soul and his bitter disappointment in both himself and organized religion. Album highlight 'Slow and Steady' has the bands best chemistry yet, containing the most effective and varied uses of instrumentation to be found here. With haunting violin refrains and emotive orchestral crescendos, as well as the best lyrical performance on display, it holds the listeners attention throughout. 'Clockwork' contains an arrangement by guest composer Van Dyke Parks, and though it initially jars the listener with it's leap into Bambi-esque frolicking strings, it becomes an important counterpoint to the personal tracks that open and close the album (along with the upbeat throwback to past albums, 'Timelapse'). While instrumental variation is everywhere, these two songs provide the needed emotional variation to keep the listener invested in the experience, while juxtaposing with the more personal tracks and strengthening their impact.
The band would go on to release much more material over the following years, but as O'Neal slowly took more control over the instrumental work and production, the diversity that can be provided by a full band's creative input became an impossibility. While the Yearbook project and the current Atlas project are certainly beautiful in their own right, they are more personal and stripped down, and never quite reach the expansive heights that the full band was capable of when working together. Being the bands most cohesive work as well as containing some of their best individual tracks, Storyboards
will stand as Sleeping at Last's final and greatest statement as a group.