I first came across The Sleep Design via their radical label Come and Live earlier this year. I check the site every so often since all of the albums are pay-what-you-want, and I’ve discovered some awesome music. When I picked up their full-length, “All That Is Not Music Is Silence,” I tossed it into my library and put it on as background music every now and then. It was good, but I wasn’t really listening for content, even if the title was thought-provoking. With the recent release of “Kings EP,” however, I am paying much closer attention to the music and enjoying it quite a bit.
The Sleep Design is an instrumental band out of Nashville and Birmingham. To one not acquainted with ambient, instrumental, or post-rock music, there may not be much that stands out. (Truth be told, I’m not enough of a connoisseur to pick out more than a handful of bands distinctively.) But that doesn’t mean that they do not create well-crafted, beautiful music. The biggest thing that stood out to me on the five-song offering was the use of dynamic shifts. With such music, it can be hard to find a good balance between droning ambience and jarring transitions. I believe The Sleep Design pull this off as well as any band I’ve heard on the “Kings EP.”
At the outset, the listener is greeted by a reverb-washed guitar, but it’s not long before a more passionate moment incorporating the entire band arises from the depths and takes over the song before sentimentally trailing off at the close of the track. Throughout the album, the spacey instrumental drop-outs are well-timed, leaving one feeling the weight of the music and anticipating the next turn. At the same time, there are enough surprises to keep the listener engaged. Unique instrumentation arises here and there to add sonic variation, and complex melodious interchanges between the two guitars and bass could take several listens to wrap one’s mind around. I find that songs transition well one to another and “make sense” as an album. Lastly, the production quality is also great, including some fabulous guitar tones.
The one caveat for me, personally, is the titles. I find titles to be even more important within an album when lyrics are not present. This helps me to determine if there is a scene I should envision to go with the music and to connect with what the artist intended. On “Kings EP,” the titles are somewhat vague, as well as the album title as a whole. The exception is the closing track, “When We Meet,” which I think beautifully portrays a moment of reunion between two people, or between sinner and savior. In the grand scheme, however, I understand this is a nit-picky issue.
Overall, I give “Kings EP” a 4/5. While not breaking entirely new ground, it is a great representation of the genre. It’s dynamic and interesting enough that you may not want to use it simply as background noise, and it is exactly the kind of album I would put on while going for a night drive.