Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
of the Last Human Being


3.6
great

Review

by hug rap's painful goodbye STAFF
February 24th, 2024 | 55 replies


Release Date: 02/23/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: We used poisonous gases

Throughout their original '00s tenure, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum blazed a trail of avant-garde chaos, wrapping a heady apocalyptic clamour in theatrical performance choices, and ultimately securing one of the most distinctive, imaginative and enduring legacies of an whole generation of experimental metal. With their often polytonal cacophony scraped and hammered from homemade instruments, and a tendency to pivot from pummelling maximalism to queasy chamber reveries at the drop of a hat, they made remarkable work of conjuring genuine terror out of kitsch proclamations of the apocalypse, ass-headed Antichrist meting out judgement day and all. They packed enough chutzpah and performative heft to eschew the same gaudiness that snared droves of Patton-adjacent quirk-hawkers among the ouguts' avant-rabble – here was a group that actually commanded suspension of disbelief, and whenever any given song started to toe the line, their revolving door of vocalists ensured that a fresh voice would promptly clean the air. The band's schtick stayed fresh and they remained largely unrivalled within their own lane: by the time the likes of Ni and PoiL showed up, brutal prog misfits who might have meaningfully been termed peers, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's original run had all but wrapped up.

...all of which is well and good, but a comeback album can be a thorny prospect for acts we once thought too weird to live. Sleepytime's spook and brimstone is not the kind of brand that survives a gratuitous reheat, and besides, the sombre overtones that hung over the backend of their final album In Glorious Times was already a highly satisfying point for their discography to end. With the occasional James Joyce-shaped exception, that record came as close as the band likely ever could to transcending their own goofball trappings, fleshing out an unexpectedly stirring air of melancholy and flexing considerable songwriting muscle at anyone who ever pegged them as a novelty act.

Little has changed in the latter regard, but of the Last Human Being, our lovely, timely first-LP-in-seventeen-years, wisely declines to pick off where In Glorious Times left off, or to recreate the harrowing end-of-days onslaught of its predecessor Of Natural History. Instead, we are treated to the closest thing to outright levity that has snuck into any Sleepytime Gorilla Museum since the screwball twists of their debut Grand Opening and Closing (of AMBUGATON fame). Their form here is considerably less uncompromising: song structures are more likely to focus on momentum and rarely pivot into the earthquake breakdowns of gorilla museums past, the dissonance in the band's chamber arrangements and amplified carnivals alike sounds several shades less jagged (though their distinctive approach to counterpoint is unchanged), vocalist Nils Frykdahl's demonic harshes are notably less prevalent than on past outings, and as for theme and framing, our terrifyingly plausible doomsday cult has become a motley gang of alien[ated?] scientists oohing and ahing over Exhibit A, humanity's hapless final scion.

This relatively inviting profile proves a good look at numerous points. True to its title, opener "Salamander in Two Worlds" strikes an admirable balance between ushering in the streamlined qualities of the band's new era, and airing many of the tropes and excesses their returning audience are likely craving. The following firestarter "El Evil" offers a still more kinetic take on what could favourably be termed Sleepytime Gorilla-lite, and a similar approach to immediacy pays dividends on the pounding "Burn Into Light", one of their most straightforward metal tracks to date, and then we have, of all things, a barnstorming cover of This Heat's "SPQR" that bursts out of absolutely fucking nowhere and elicits a double-take of a magnitude worth the price of admission in and of itself. On this track in particular, the band are as full of beans as they've ever been, and of the Last Human Being does smack of earnest inspiration as such.

However, the album falls short as a whole when it comes to stakes and spectacle. Leaving aside that its premise as a sinister sci-fi revue lacks the menace of past outings (epitomised on "We Must Know More", the Sleepytime version of a Broadway showstopper in the most belaboured sense of the term), its most violent peaks are also the parts most dependent on faithful revisitations of their vintage sound, and are rather underwhelming as such. Case in point, the heaviest flashpoint "The Gift" pans out more as an overlong retread of past Sleepytime Gorilla Museum pyrotechnics, stalling the album just as it seems to have hit its most creative run. This is further compounded by the uncharacteristically dogmatic lyrics: a diatribe of alienation levelled against social media and the zombification of current-year homo sapiens. Technophobic critique is hardly anything new for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum*, but even a quick glance at their writing on On Natural History shows "The Gift" up as artless and unimaginative by comparison. Between this and the skittish "Save It!" (an overbearing jumble of sharp contours that crosses my threshold for proggy indulgence), the album's third quarter loses shape and its overall trajectory – a central selling point for the last two Sleepytime Gorilla records – is muddled for it. On a song-by-song level, of the Last Human Being boasts perhaps the band's most versatile tracklist, yet it's neither the most cohesive nor the most commanding showcase of their combined talents.

This is perhaps inevitable, as the record was largely written and partially recorded prior to their long hiatus, yet also includes entirely new material from their present era. Fine, fair, but circumstances be damned, let's hover on some of those poor stranded individual songs! of the Last Human Being's most encouraging signs can be seen most clearly in its outliers, the majority of which are lead by vocalist/violinist Carla Kihlstedt. Her performance on the early highlight "Silverfish" is underpinned by a patchwork of feedback and subtle accents, upending the band's customary brashness into a spartan reverie to the point that it evokes such slowcore greats as Low or The For Carnation. Kihlstedt's blithe string refrain offsets her dour verses to mesmeric effect, recalling In Glorious Times' extended dirge "The Greenless Wreath" in its lesson that Sleepytime Gorilla Museum can be their most magnetic at their most minimal. However, "Silverfish"'s songwriting is more cyclical, more evasive – it suggests a new direction for the band, and if it sits a little awkwardly in the tracklist, an abrupt lacuna after the opening salvo, then this is in part a reflection of how confidently it turns its back on much of their established methodology. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the album's other chief highlight "Hush Hush", on which Kihlstedt's show-stealing performance is supported by what sounds suspiciously like a traditional rock arrangement (w/ benefit of her string textures) – the song pivots midway into a bout of classic Sleepytime fractures, but for just a few minutes it declines to lean on the band's established own idiosyncrasies, asserting that they can play anyone's prog on their own terms. The writing and ominous chord progression here are so strong that they don't need a hallmark behind them.

It's a curious and largely auspicious thing that of the Last Human Being's best material sounds the least indebted to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's roots – that alone is a reliable metric of approval for any comeback. The album's palatable qualities and slick pacing belie a rich spread of ideas, laced with enough revival of their classic tropes to make for a satisfying, if somewhat frictionless fix for anyone listening for primarily nostalgic reasons. Beyond that, the band clearly still have much to offer creatively, and in more guises than we had cause to suspect – and so, if the album's culminating epic "Old Grey Heron" does have as much in common with the blockbuster sci-fi of Coheed and Cambria as with the band who once made "Babydoctor", there's still no chance you'll be mistaking it for anyone else's work. Welcome back.






*for a more playful take on this, see the following interview from 18:43: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHcnh1y6dWw




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user ratings (53)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 24th 2024


60160 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

NEG: long review and i kinda hate it

POS: rare band with a fanbase that will more likely than not read long reviews?

good album / solid comeback / not perfect but- / OPEN YOUR HEART

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 24th 2024


21096 Comments


Great review! Super stoked to check this out... can't believe it's been almost 17 years since we got a new SGM record

VlacDrac
February 24th 2024


2301 Comments


Holy shit

Slex
February 25th 2024


16425 Comments


Really damn good review

Zac124
February 25th 2024


2567 Comments


Need to check this out. Luckily, I only discovered this band in November so I didn't have to wait long lol.

Squiggly
February 25th 2024


1238 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yaaaay it’s time for Sleepytime!

Veldin
February 25th 2024


5237 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sleepytime and Kayo Dot are going on tour soon! Loving this album and great review, mate

wildinferno2010
February 25th 2024


1874 Comments


...and we poisoned their asses

Never heard of these guys, it sounds super interesting. Gonna check this out

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
February 25th 2024


26017 Comments


Great rev, bout time I got on these guys

Imperial
February 26th 2024


2039 Comments


Avant garde music like this always has a special place in my heart. Mr.bungle, Estradasphere, Secret Chiefs...it just takes me to another place. This is no exception. Bravo SGM.

MyFriendMetatron
February 26th 2024


92 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Great review Johnny. You summed up my thoughts about the album well. This is the first SGM album I can put on in the background and not actively listen to, which isn't a bad thing by any stretch. I'd probably introduce people to them with this album before sending them back through their stuff. If they like this they'll love the rest.



I was listening to this while driving my daughter to her robotics club, and she was surprised at how stripped-down it felt compared to the prior albums. She's been listening to them since she was in diapers so it was interesting hearing her take on it.



Demon of the Fall
February 26th 2024


33475 Comments


hmm, to check this first / the debut, decisions decisions. The (now) 'middle two' are appreciated

which one is less Patton-esque on a scale of Patton to pattern?

Lichtbringer
February 26th 2024


1142 Comments


"...all of which is well and good, but a comeback album can be a thorny prospect for acts we once termed too fast to live, too rare to die."

found this line a little confusing. are you referencing "fear and loathing" here? shouldn't it be "too weird to live..."?
it's of course a good review and you clearly have a way with words. but whenever i read one of yours i can't help but think that a little restraint would do wonders for your writing.

Zakusz
February 26th 2024


1508 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Who are NI and POIL? I am intrigued.

necropig
February 26th 2024


7403 Comments


I didn't know they had a new album, noice

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 26th 2024


60160 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

"She's been listening to them since she was in diapers so it was interesting hearing her take on it"

this is absolutely nuts to me hahaha, based/cursed parenting

"are you referencing "fear and loathing" here"

that phrase is established to the point that it has a life outside the text, so both yes and no. more importantly, i inadvertently mangled it with malcolm mclaren's equally iconic too fast too live, too young to die (which also fits their early run to a certain extent) ugh - pared back to the central notion/fix'd

bellovddd
February 26th 2024


5661 Comments


thats a silly name for a band

Rowhaus
February 26th 2024


6064 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

What a crock of shit. Great review but this band is peak hipster trash.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 26th 2024


60160 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

Hawthorne Heights die-hards weighing in on silly band names and nu-gaze entryists imagining they have a leg to stand on when it comes to calling anything hipster trash nice

cannot wait to see what this thread delivers next

bellovddd
February 26th 2024


5661 Comments


if hawthrone are hipster music then i am the biggest fucking hipster you know



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