Sleep is the second album from Alaska’s A Thousand Hours in under six months. Endless Grey came out in the spring and was a miserabilist conglomeration of The Cure, Jesus And Mary Chain and a psychedelic Leonard Cohen. Coming so quickly behind that debut album, it is surprising how much their sound has changed in the interim. Guest vocalists dominate Sleep. The instrumentation is more elaborate and the whole thing is swimming in a Damien Hirst tank of reverb.
The songs start and end suddenly and deliberately. There is no fancy ornamentation or extended intro/outro work. ‘Shipwreck’ and ‘Bleach’ are reminiscent of This Mortal Coil with the ethereal atmosphere and dreamy lyrics. 'Christina' has an Echo And The Bunnymen feel. 'Crushed' is like ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye' echoing up from a fissure in an Antarctic glacier. The arty, gothic vibe of Endless Grey has given way to a purely shoegaze/dreampop sound. While not objectionable in itself, A Thousand Hours' self-inflicted nailing to a specific genre limits them. As a result, Sleep is less interesting than its predecessor; there is little variation in tone or tempo.
It’s a remarkable transformation for the band, but it is marred by the return of a foe once thought vanquished. The resurrection of the horrific ‘80s atrocity, the gated snare, renders the album almost unlistenable. There are two types of ‘80s songs that are still heard: those without the gated snare drum that are still played openly, and those songs with the wretched abomination that are only ever heard on midnight radio request shows, asked for by someone whose spouse has recently passed away. There is good reason that the gated snare is no longer used. It is the single worst drum sound in the history of recorded music. Even Metallica’s St. Anger has a more acceptable snare sound.
Sleep is a disappointing record, particularly as it follows such a promising debut. The gated snare doesn’t help but this collection of songs sounds unfinished and samey. We’re hoping for more from one of North America’s most depressing bands.
Sleep is available via bandcamp.