On Second Listen: Sleep Whale – Houseboat

We’ve all seen moments in cinema where music adds that indescribable sensation, that unexplainable bliss where all you can do is sit helplessly as your body and soul are attached to the screen. It might come during a moment of sheer comedy — Geto Boys blasting as a fax machine is massacred in Office Space, or the entire reenactment of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World. On the other end of the spectrum, a song can give a scene that somber overtone unachievable with acting alone. Richie’s suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums ironically accompanied by Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay”, and Fight Club couldn’t have ended with anything but “Where is My Mind” to cap a mind-boggling finish.

Sleep Whale’s sophomore effort, Houseboat, might have not reached the silver screen quite yet, but it already feels like the soundtrack to every moment of clarity and every instance of wonder outside the routine. Almost solely instrumental, the album requires oxymoronic conditions for listening: complete silence. It might sound depressing, but Houseboat is one of those achievements best enjoyed alone. In any other setting, you might never know what you’ve missed.

Houseboat starts off building, building, building, all to fall down. “Green Echo” and “Cotton Curls” provide that first taste of excitement, but it isn’t until “Sleep Reprise” do we see Sleep Whale’s knack for that slow head-banging delight waiting to burst out of a looped phrase. The repetition remains tracks after track, giving the album book-like qualities as each chapter builds off the previous.

Strings consume “Ferry Whistle” and “Light Tunnel” as drums fade in and out, all while making sure guitars and other layers stay audible. Houseboat ends just as it began with “Giant Wings”, which is nothing short of a massive stretch of musical landscape.

The music stops, and you’re left listening. Listening to sounds never heard before. It might be the slow purring of the AC, or the cars gripping pavement outside your bedroom window. It’s just that Houseboat leaves you with a new sense, and all I can say to Sleep Whale is thank you.


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