Review Summary: Bleak, heavy, dreamySleepless
is the kind of album that refuses to let go. From its first urgent, unnerving notes to the meandering guitars that close out Palm Reader’s latest effort, every second provides the essential components for one hell of an overall experience. While the British band have always been experts at putting forth crushing, emotive works of post-hardcore, this fourth full length manages to double down on every positive quality and amplify the atmosphere to an overwhelmingly gorgeous extent.
As such, it is incredibly easy to deconstruct Sleepless
and distinguish why it excels as a whole, which is a feat in itself. Firstly, regardless of whether he is quietly enhancing a song’s ambience by gently singing or letting out ear-piercing screams, vocalist Josh Mckeown proves an essential part of the band all throughout. He manages to perfectly complement the music when necessary or lead a track when it requires guidance; the two elements are in consistent and impeccable harmony. Opener and lead single ‘Hold/Release’ displays Mckeown’s strengths right from the start: his urgent yells gel perfectly with the unsettling riff, before smoothly transitioning into a huge chorus where a prolonged wail of ‘euphoria will never make a home in me’
more than suffices to set the despairing tone. While such delightful contrasts show up all over the record, ‘Stay Down’ sees Mckeown effortlessly switching between screams, cleans and half-yelled vocals, augmenting the song’s chaotic and ruthless nature while displaying the vocalist’s technical proficiency.
Secondly, every single instrument can be identified for its excellence and praised for Sleepless
’ success. While any song could be picked to demonstrate this, ‘A Love That Tethers’ makes an exceptional case for itself as it not only incorporates one of the many dense basslines to be found across the album, it also provides a post-rock section between its explosive verses. Here, the sheer beauty of the guitars can be felt, equal parts dazzlingly bright and overwhelmingly heavy. As the drums calmly crash back in and mark the transition into the final section of the track, every aspect appears pieced together with surgical precision while retaining the undeniably organic, authentic feeling that makes Palm Reader great. When a slightly weaker chorus rears its head in the form of ‘Willow’, the band instantly remedies this by providing excellent, technical riffs paired with a highly demanding rhythm section.
Lyrically, Mckeown manages to carefully inspect the atmosphere crafted by the instrumentals and use it to his advantage as well as enhance it. Embracing the song’s structure, the somewhat uplifting ‘Ending Cycle’ finds the vocalist describing a newfound sense of strength in the verses: ’A bold attack on any doubts I had / A step forward into boldness and it’s holding’
. Subsequently, the colossal chorus slightly twists this optimism and roots it in dim realism through an acceptance of darkness, rather than a fear of it. Accompanied by slow, pulsating drums, Mckeown cries: ’The winding of life’s path eventually leads / to finding the shadows cast are where they’re meant to be’
, making for one of Sleepless
’ most touching moments. Similarly, ‘A Bird and Its Feathers’ is an emotionally obscured affair, allowing for an exploration of the edges of this very established realism: ’We slipped and surrounded each other / Lost in bliss and its boundless wonder’
Yet, as good
as every individual element may be, their true excellence and potential only shines when packaged collectively as Sleepless
. Functioning as a glue for the incredible songwriting is the equally brilliant production by Lewis Johns. Every instrument gets a chance to shine when it needs to, without unnecessarily subduing other elements or detracting from the atmosphere. A reasonable amount of reverb adds a nice touch of ambience, primarily to the album’s cleaner choruses. The aforementioned ‘A Bird and Its Feathers’ marks the start of the album's best stretch, followed by the fully instrumental ‘Islay’ and closed out by ‘False Thirst’. The two bookends are expansive tracks, relying on tension-building instrumentals and overpowering choruses. The latter allows the blackened reality of Sleepless
to unfold even further, with unsettling lines such as ’I’m intact / I don’t feel the same’
setting the tone for a song that, in spite of its gloomy nature, manages to display glimmers of hope. Due to the nature of these emotionally exhaustive tracks, ‘Islay’ does not merely function as an interlude, rather, it provides a highly needed moment of clarity; a chance to breathe before being pulled back into the ravishing, dark depths of the album.
is a beautiful album from an incredible band that deserve so much more attention and praise. By improving on every element of their songwriting for the fourth record in a row, Palm Reader have crafted their best work yet. It’s bleak, it’s heavy, it’s dreamy: simply put, it’s one of the best albums of the year as well as a perfect fit for this particular time of year.