Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

"Maui Tears"

Release date: 17 March 2014
Sleepy Sun – Maui Tears
12 March 2014, 11:30 Written by Joe Goggins

Things have changed since Sleepy Sun formed back in 2007. Experimental, psychedelic rock would only grant you a place on the fringes of the alternative mainstream back then, whereas now it’s de rigeur, thanks in no small part to the surprising – but certainly not unwelcome – success of Tame Impala. I would use an analogy about a glass ceiling here, but unfortunately that’s a phrase that I’ll now forever associate with that Alex Turner speech from the Brits, which was so embarrassing that even his jaw appeared to be trying to distance itself from him.

There’s no question that there’s an appetite for this sort of music, and yet the market doesn’t yet seem overcrowded. Impala’s Lonerism proved that those kinds of trippy rock throwbacks are by no means commercially unviable, and based on their excellent first couple of records, Embrace and Fever, Sleepy Sun don’t seem like unsuitable candidates.

After Fever, though, Rachel Fannan left the band in acrimonious fashion, and was sorely missed on their next album, 2012’s Spine Hits. In removing the male-female vocal back-and-forth between herself and Bret Constantino, she took away one of the group’s unique selling points. That said, you might have been forgiven for not expecting her departure to have quite such an impact, given that she was never involved in the songwriting side of proceedings. I still felt able to excuse the insipid Spine Hits as the sound of a band in transition, who were finding their feet again after a fair bit of upheaval – when I said acrimonious, I meant it.

“The Lane”, this record’s opener, is a difficult track to get a handle on; the overlapping guitar parts sound as if they’ve been plucked from different songs, leaving you wondering if it’s supposed to serve as a slow-burning tone-setter – there’s one of those big stoner rock riffs that they’ve always been so fond of in there – or a noisy early statement of intent. The apparently arbitrary way in which the vocals weave in and out don’t help, either, but the incendiary outro at least rounds the track off positively.

The real problem with Maui Tears is the kitchen sink approach that Sleepy Sun have taken; there’s not much room for things to breathe. “1132” is a case in point; every time it sounds as if they’re getting somewhere, they’ve already moved on to something else. The track’s guitar interludes are thrilling, but they’re too quickly over, fading into spacey, vocal-heavy sections that kill the momentum. On “Words”, the constant flip-flopping between acoustic delicacy and electric aggression comes over like two songs awkwardly forced together, even before the climactic introduction of the one thing it didn’t need; soaring, string-like synths.

Elsewhere, “Outside” aims for quiet beauty, but meanders; Constantino’s brittle delivery, however effects-laden, doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny when it isn’t being drowned in a sea of reverb, as is also the case on the plodding “Slowdown”. “Thielbar” again underscores the record’s lack of conviction; there’s plenty of bite to the riffs, but just as they’re really beginning to take off, they tail off, stepping to one side to allow the vocals back to the fore.

Perhaps this explains why the title track, in closing out the record, is its strongest moment by far; at ten and a half minutes, there’s no suggestion of compromise, or the feeling that the band are in a rush. Instead, “Maui Tears” simmers; the guitar’s threatening, the percussion’s ominous, the late burst of harmonica is a stroke of genius and despite its sprawling length, the merciful lack of chopping and changing makes it feel like the tautest cut on the album.

Maui Tears was an opportunity to shake off the hangover imposed by Fannan’s exit and lay down a real marker; instead, it feels like the product of a band playing within themselves. There’s plenty of kernels of good ideas here, but very few of them feel properly developed; just as their genre’s been thrust into the spotlight, Sleepy Sun seem to have developed stage fright.

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