Bet you’ve never heard a band origin story quite like Sleep Theory’s before. You probably never will again either, seeing as the concept of meeting on Facebook Marketplace and using that to spawn your serious musical career is so alien that it’d never even be considered in a joking capacity. And the likelihood is that a good backstory will justify the immense interest sure to follow, with viral traction and a rock-radio-worthy sound already firmly under their belt. Yeah, the story might be new, but you’ve certainly heard a band like Sleep Theory before—there are loads of them!
Not that that would automatically sink them; they’re fine enough at what they do. If you have to pick a slicker-than-slick hard rock band with scant few distinguishing traits, it might as well be Sleep Theory. At least they’re newer. Though what does that say with regards to any kind of quality, either in the scene as a whole or about Sleep Theory in particular? Paper Hearts doesn’t present a band punching too high above their station, as a highly modernised form of radio-rock packed with a lot of sheen and processed embellishments, all exactly where they should be. Fallout simulates something like a record scratch rather incessantly across its runtime, but it’s the furthest that Sleep Theory stray from an incredibly inflexible template. And when there isn’t a lot of staying power presented in…any of it, you begin to wonder how high Sleep Theory realistically intend to go in the long run.
There isn’t a great answer here, either. Outside of the radio-rock ecosystem where they’ll inevitably be platformed sooner rather than later, it’s hard to see what Sleep Theory can really do. Cullen Moore does have a good voice and provides a useful boon to have in their corner, though that too is more archetypical than truly standout. It’s not like R&B smoothness combined with hard rock is a novel phenomenon; hell, a band like Fire From The Gods is still around and has already surpassed them in that lane. Sleep Theory would’ve been more impressive in the previous decade when that was more of a draw; now, when even the most established names are jumping onboard this smoother approach (characteristically late to trends, as usual), what more exactly is there to glean?
Well, on Paper Hearts, very little, unfortunately. Over six tracks, all that really happens is Sleep Theory welcoming themselves to the paddock of packaged-for-radio commodities, and awaiting their turn for increased attention. They’ll probably get it, in the same pyrrhic way as the billons who’ve come before and will inevitably come after—a spike in favour, a hearty plateau, and then a monumental fade as they’re replaced by another, for whom that exact cycle will repeat. At least they’ll always have Facebook Marketplace; no one will be beating them in those stakes in a hurry.
For fans of: Pop Evil, Rain City Drive, Bad Wolves
‘Paper Hearts’ by Sleep Theory is out now on Epitaph Records.
Haunt The Woods
Y’know, when your band sounds like the backing music to a stroll through a misty English forest, in which there could very well be the spectres of sylvan folklore wafting in and out of the trees, ‘Haunt The Woods’ is a bloody good name. Indeed, there’s a very British austerity about what they’re doing here, the hybrid of a Radiohead that never jumped ship on rock music, with a Muse that can still pay off their own visions of bombast. And while on paper, that totally sounds like manna from heaven for a certain sect of white, middle-aged ‘real music’ enjoyers whose taste barely evolved past parroted Q Magazine takes circa the mid-2000s, fret not—this is still good, even if you’re not the most annoying human on the face of the earth.
Though saying that, it probably won’t be for everyone either. The near-constant slow burn and reliance on deliberately big swathes of sound stacking up the layers isn’t exactly for the adrenaline junkies in the audience. On top of that, there’s definitely an element of Ubiquity circling back on itself every now and then, to make this almost-hour-long album sustain some more bloat than it needs. But had Haunt The Woods been a worse band than they are, they’d almost certainly be far more damning issues. Often, there’s such a grandeur to what Ubiquity brings that you’re more likely to sink into it than be actively compelled to pull at its stitches. It’s the consequence of being so meticulous in bringing forth the richness in this sort of alt-prog, on songs like Equilibrium or The Line Part II that simply sound phenomenal in how well-balanced and executed their strings, pianos and gossamer auras are.
It’s rounded out by the varnished texture that enhances each individual piece of sonic palette, without muting some pretty admirable dynamism. Within reason, that is; it’s primarily restricted to growing swells that’ll see Haunt The Woods’ harder tones burst from their softer ones, though it’s a credit to them that it’s rarely boring. Jonathan Stafford’s voice has the smashed-porcelain histrionics of Jeff Buckley or Nothing But Thieves’ Conor Mason, which certainly helps. There’s also a love for softer balladry that Ubiquity finds a lot of mileage in, particularly when it comes to some truly outstanding vocal layering on the likes of Home or Sleepwalking. Even if their formula can get a bit easy to suss (as one would expect over a fairly long, deliberate album like this), the cavernous depths to explore and marvel at are what keep Haunt The Woods engaging.
And plus, there’s just not a whole lot of bands right now doing what they are. The pieces of the past might be easy to identify, but as a whole, Ubiquity stands on its own, and rather tall and proudly at that. Haunt The Woods certainly aren’t doing things by halves, and it culminates in a grand yet grounded statement that could have some real legs beneath it, should it catch on. That aforementioned crowd will have a field day with this, obviously, but Ubiquity is also self-evidently strong and well-made enough that it’s not hard at all to see its reach extending. Frankly, it’d be great to have something like this around more.
For fans of: Muse, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley
‘Ubiquity’ by Haunt The Woods is out now on Spinefarm Records.
Base & Superstructure
Had Meatraffle been around in the ‘90s, joining hands with the throng of other grebo and alt-dance tacitly shaping pop music to their will, they’d have been seen as a revelation. Now, though, they’re victims of an era where ‘counter-culturalism’ isn’t really a thing anymore. Everything is readily available to everyone, no matter how weird you are or how far outside the zeitgeist you want to pitch yourself. And yet, there’s a conscious effort made—maybe even a belief—on Base & Superstructure that’s got true individuality on the brain. Is it justified? Erm…ish?
On principle, it’s true that there’s no one around today who sounds exactly like Meatraffle. The composite parts can be familiar—The Fall; Sleaford Mods; Fat White Family—but they’ve got them arranged in a way to where there is worth there. Perhaps that worth can be overstated by the band themselves though, seeing how their particular confluence isn’t slow to swing around and mirror a lot of modern, urbanised post-punk tropes and ideologies. That in itself is far from abnormal, but it’s the air on Base & Superstructure that refuses to connect as much. Something cool and interesting is in view, but not in reach, and thus there’s less of a latent commentary on Posh People In Pop or Secret Fizzy Wine Drinker than was probably intended. The fact is, the cloth that Meatraffle are generally cut from has been snipped and sliced so much that there’s barely a stable thread anymore, even when the commentary is more overt like on Mannaggia La Miseria or Bully Boss. The potential to be interesting or twist intentions into a distinct form never materialises as substantially as it should.
What’s left is an album that isn’t as elasticated or free-roaming as it clearly thinks it is, the sort of hurdle that really should be easily avoidable. And that’s not to say that Meatraffle can’t work; they end up doing the most musically with thrumming, motorik catchiness on Lovesong Industrial Complex and Bully Boss. The fact these songs are generally based around loops and basslines is similarly neat, as if to take the next step into outright dance-punk that plenty of post-punk already flirts with. But the half-life of Base & Superstructure only seems to shrink with each listen, when less and less appears to really leave any kind of mark. There’s an atmosphere of working-class ennui that’s cultivated in small moments and expectedly dry vocal humour—Zsa Zsa Sapien is locked into the post-punk mechanism with no chance of escape, in that respect—all of which has the feel of a band who simultaneously know where their fundamentals come from, but also want to deconstruct them to myth-make before that’s even a tangible possibility.
It all amounts to a weird left turn that seldom even ends up anywhere noteworthy; the sights on the way have more to offer overall. And that really is disappointing, as a band like Meatraffle whose capability to have their own angle aren’t using it most efficiently. At least with a lot of those ‘90s alt-dance act—for as unstable and courting of a novelty label as they could be—there was charm from how far their off-kilter splatter-paintings could wind up. Meatraffle, meanwhile, can’t really break out of how limited they are, and how that emphatically shouldn’t be the case. Maybe pop has eaten itself after all. Shame it’s not a bit tastier.
For fans of: The Fall, Big Audio Dynamite, Carter USM
‘Base & Superstructure’ by Meatraffle is out now on Blang Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall