Review Summary: Whatever time we thought we had left is now gone.these are not your dreams
is the unifying banner under which Australian post-rockers and capital letters eschwers sleepmakeswaves have slow-dripped 3 EPs: No Safe Place
, Out of Hours
, and Not an Exit
. The gradual release of these EPs was a conscious decision by the trio to highlight their mindset during each phase, although COVID-19 understandably led to delays in recording, producing, mixing, and release dates (especially as members were on the shelf for mandatory quarantine stints). To work in the visual and performing arts (either as an artist or part of ancillary staff) during a global pandemic is overwhelmingly stressful, but 2020 has also been a year that illustrates artists' perseverance and ingenuity during a time when terms like "social distancing" have entered our vernacular and touring has come to a screeching halt. these are not your dreams
arrives without any creative compromises, and it signals a lot of "firsts" for sleepmakeswaves as well: the collection is the first to be self-produced, -mixed, and -recorded by the band and the first release to have songs featuring predominant vocals. The band are quick to acknowledge some of the quintessential criticisms of the genre ("Every song has been an experiment in how far we can push ourselves creatively and sonically... because what else is there... why do people need more? We've set ourselves the challenge of answering that question every day we've worked on our material. And we wanted to work harder than ever to justify it in an age of limitless novelty"), so is dreams
a trailblazing effort, a more-of-the-same, paint-by-numbers composite, or an experiment that will be swiftly forgotten, like when you were interested in geocaching for all of two weeks?
As always, context is important, but the short answer is that tracks like "the endings that we write", "cascades", "pyramids", and "zelda" are some of the band's finest songs to date, Out of Hours
is the strongest of the three components, and it's likely for the best that you act as if each EP is its own time capsule instead of treating dreams
as a flowing LP with a coherent tracklist from start-to-finish.
No Safe Place
("the blue EP") begins with a track that is simply post-rock done right: opener "the endings that we write" contains gorgeous ambiance and spectacular volume swells throughout its runtime. "endings" is also a bit of a tease in that it's the longest track in the compilation, but the song is sublime in its dissonance during its back half, with Tim Adderly's thunderous snare, Alex Wilson's bulky bass, and a healthy fusion of delay-laden and distorted guitars. The frenetic pace continues with "batavia", which amplifies the psychedelic leanings teased in the preceding track. "batavia" also sports sludgier guitars a la Russian Circles or Pelican that will sound absolutely stunning when they're unleashed live and a twinkly, Midwestern emo-tinged outro that allows for a brief respite after the bombast. No Safe Place
closes with the ethereal "cascades", the first song in the collection to feature Otto Wicks-Green's falsetto. True to its name, "cascades" swirls and flows before it finally teeters off a precipice like a waterfall in its crescendo, with lyrics that tie back to the compilation's opening motif: "You and me, what's left of the endings that we write? / They became the oceans and the sky" croons Wicks-Green in the track's most climactic moments. The blue EP is an auspicious start to the collection, not dissimilar to a lead-off batter getting on base for the third or cleanup hitters to drive home (I leave it up to your personal geography or allegiance if this means No Safe Place
is Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Ichiro, etc.).
As aforementioned, Out of Hours
("the pink EP") is arguably the strongest of the 3 EPs, with the 1-2 punch of "pyramids" and "zelda" leading the charge. Sonically, Hours
has some '90s post-hardcore underpinnings, which is an undeniable delight. Out of Hours
has a similar structure to No Safe Place
in that its first half is the most memorable, with "pyramids"' space rock aesthetic signaling a change in demeanor. Chunky, viscous riffs in the song's first two-thirds give way to a feverishly-paced final third, and the electronics infused in the song's more atmospheric and assuaging stanzas add greater depth to the song's dynamics. While "pyramids" was initially demoed for Made of Breath Only
, these are not your dreams
is a much better landing spot for "pyramids" given Breath
's polar, icier constitution. Meanwhile, "zelda" is one of sleepmakeswaves' best songs in their discography. While Wicks-Green's vocals emboss "zelda", they augment the song with palpable spirit and vigor ("So much left to say / It's all so soon / But I would have saved it all for you . . . / I'll find all the words after you're gone"); "zelda" isn't a standout or 'score points' because the reappearance of vocals are a novelty. While "zelda" would still be a strong recording without them, it'd feel lacking in its holistic composition without the vocals, as the track gives listeners an opportunity to visualize their place in the lyrics and derive meaning from its storytelling. In contrast, "menthol" has more of a recycled B-side feel, although its electronic flourishes are memorable, but "embraced" ensures the pink EP ends on a satisfying note. There's no long build-up to a crescendo; instead, the chugging riffs and pulsating electronics, interspersed with some ambient passages, dominate the last three-quarters to appreciable success.
Not an Exit
("the green EP") is perhaps the most 'unmemorable' of the 3 EPs, but I should preface this with some disclaimers. First, the pandemic caused delays with the pink EP's mastering, which led to both the pink and green EPs being delayed, which meant no time to write new material. Second, some of the band were obligated to quarantine themselves for the requisite 14 days, and the stringent social distancing measures in New South Wales meant no opportunity to rehearse together. Consequently, the green EP was created completely remotely, which means the electronics, rather than a large drum kit, took precedence in the rhythm section. "mind palace"'s name does little to belie expectations: it is pensive, soothing, and allows time for contemplation (and might serve as a welcome calming segue when listening to the compilation in one fell swoop after the heavier pink EP). The effect-laden guitars of "serenity now" and modulated vocals in "lofi nylon" are resplendent and emanate a poppier vibe, and the compilation's title track imbues electronics a la 65daysofstatic and serves as a reassuring epilogue. As such, Not an Exit
should be cheered for being an opportunity for sleepmakeswaves to stretch their creative muscles in terms of technology and composition, and the halcyon end result provides plenty of room to be introspective, reflect, and be mindful of the present moment.
The these are not your dreams
project is forever a snapshot in time when life feels like it's been perpetually trending towards the bizarre, and constructs like the 24-hour news cycle serve to aggravate our collective anxiety further. While the blue, pink, and green EPs all represent different portraits of the band's psyche at the times they were written and recorded -- and the intention might not have been to listen to the compilation from front-to-back given how in flux their disparate energies are -- but the experience does not suffer if that's your listening preference. these are not your dreams
features some of the trio's most impressive songwriting to date (specifically 'the first halves' of the blue and pink EPs, especially "the endings that we write" and "zelda"), and I'll always associate this release, even with its unremarkable songs, with persistence and moxie. "Social distancing" doesn't mean "social isolation", so call your folks, get your friends together for Jackbox Games on Meet or Zoom, wear a mask when out-and-about, and please be safe -- not just for your own good, but for the good of your community.