Review Summary: Sleeping at Last’s Ryan O’Neal wholeheartedly captures the intimacy of the world we live in.
Sleeping at Last’s Ryan O’Neal has released his fair share of music. Sleeping at Last’s discography is quite large, despite them being relatively unknown, and yet O’Neal’s scope broadens with each release. O’Neal’s previous project, Yearbook, a series of EPs inspired by each of the months of the year, was an ambitious undertaking-it was O’Neal, working alone, attempting to create a thematic sound and vision for each EP. He was relatively successful in his ambitions, creating a series of EPs that were quite diverse- and often haunting in their melodies and heartfelt lyrics.
In the following year, O’Neal decided to increase his ambitions even further. His newest project, Atlas, is another series of EPs based once again off of various themes; each being a collection of musical projections of the inner workings of life. On O’Neal’s newest EP in the series, Land, we see O’Neal completely intimate and exposed. With the Land EP, O’Neal stated that he wanted to work quite simply- acoustic instruments alone. This decision was certainly a wise one, as the EP truly feels like a musical embodiment of the land itself, with a low-key atmosphere created by the simplicity behind the keys, the strings, and the acoustic guitar.
O’Neal’s past songs have been in a similar vein- piano, strings, soft, yet impassioned vocals- but on Land, something feels different. The intimacy promised by O’Neal is actually tangible. The songs are certainly stripped down, and the songs, named after the four directions, feel as if they were pulled straight from O’Neal’s life experiences and trials. “North” is a beautifully composed song that discusses the various ins and outs of finding a new home, and what new opportunities life can present you with. O’Neal recruits two violinists for the song, and the strings add an extra depth to the song. On “South,” the beautiful melodies in the song are structured by O’Neal singing on how various truths in life are hard to define, yet he does an excellent job at actually defining what these truths can be throughout a person’s daily life, and though the idea is quite simple, its excellent execution completely makes the song.
On “East,” the standout track of the album, O’Neal pens a song about the life of Gerardus Mercator, a cartographer from the 1500s who himself created a book of maps called “Atlas", which was the inspiration for O’Neal’s set of EPs. Despite writing the song from another’s perspective, O’Neal makes the song completely personal, with his vocals proclaiming how he no longer resembles the person he once was- and how he longs to be that person again. O’Neal states on his website that the song was written about Mercator’s childhood, yet it’s easy to see how much of his own personal experience and emotion went into the song. Lines such as “Lord I want to remember how to feel like I did” or “So I draw my sword with the morning sun, I summon the moon as soon as the day is done” are so passionate and filled with emotion that it is hard not to be totally immersed in the song. The enchanting piano and the gorgeous melodies presented throughout the song accompany the enthralling narrative and definitely make the song stand out as one of O’Neal’s most well-crafted yet somehow familiar songs.
“West,” the final track of the EP, discusses distance in its full impact, and how despite how far away one may be from those they care about that everything will be alright in the end. O’Neal’s realistic outlook help the listener to relate to the song, while the guest mandolin adds another layer to the song that contributes to the overall feeling of intimacy. Overall, the song lengths are all just about perfect. Nothing is too long, and nothing feels too short. The EP length gives the songs each their own individual space to shine, and despite each song representing a direction, O’Neal himself gives the songs their own direction, with each one feeling unique and powerful.
It’s too early to say since all of the Atlas EPs have not been released yet, but as of yet, Land is certainly the most consistent release from the EPs. The way O’Neal crafts four songs that speak on the various facets of life without sounding mundane nor being overtly cliché is impressive, as is his ability to create an atmosphere that truly represents what “land” should feel like. While the music on Land is definitely not groundbreaking nor a shift or experiment in Sleeping at Last’s sound, the sheer quality of the songs and the emotion poured into each one of them makes Land stand out not only as currently the best release from the Atlas series, but one of Sleeping at Last’s best musical releases yet.