From the opening strings and airy snare drum cracks of the first instrumental track on Sleep Whale’s new album, “Green Echo,” to the entrance of reverb-soaked vocals on the pretty, spacious “Cotton Curls,” it becomes evident that the band may have learned a thing or two from late-’90-s indie rock – specifically, Red Stars Theory. The echoing, slightly lo-fi production, the gorgeous mixture of guitars, bass, and drums with drawn-out violins and swirling electronics… shades of the Pacific NW are definitely present here. But the Denton, Texas-based band isn’t mimicking its forefathers, it’s just giving its own take on the formula. And it does so very successfully.
Houseboat is all about atmosphere. As one song bleeds into another, the band’s skillful arrangements and ability to make airy but never wandering music engages the listener in what could otherwise easily be background music. Even a song like “Roof Sailing,” built on a simple descending pattern of picked acoustic guitar notes and cellos following suit doesn’t outstay its welcome. The band never lets its use of loops, minimal as it may be, overshadow the real meat and potatoes here – the delicate interplay of instrument and, sometimes, vocals. No gimmicks here, friends, just bewitching songwriting setting an understated and languorous mood.
Many of the members of Sleep Whale are busy working on solo projects as well, but let’s hope that doesn’t distract them too much from performing together. Houseboat is a moody and satisfying success.