If you are aware of Scottish post-everything band North Atlantic Oscillation, then you will know all about Sam Healy, a man who has hit on a rich seam of inspiration in recent times, with major contributions to three NAO albums and now two solo albums under his belt. As Sand, Sam follows up 2014’s self-titled solo debut, a poptastic candy confection that pulled off the neat trick of being as light as a feather and as dense as a fog at one and the same time, with the beguilingly odd and thoroughly wonderful A Sleeper, Just Awake, which is as different from the alt-Pet Sounds cinemascape of Sand and from NAO’s last psychedelic infused offering The Third Day as can be.
Reflecting its strange, almost alien cover art, the songs herein sound like they were created elsewhere, somewhere apart from the everyday world we inhabit. As an antidote for fractious times, these nine slices of avant art rock are just what this listener needs in order to temporarily forget the self-inflicted heavy manners this island finds itself under, and indeed the wilful inclination of the wider world to gleefully press the auto-destruct button.
However, all is not as it seems, for scratch at the surface of Sam’s work and something dark there lurks. The opener Mayfly lyrically contrasts the brutality of war with the rawness of exposed honesty, over a Gabriel-esque soundtrack that includes a very odd sample three minutes in that some may easily surmise sounds like a gang of agitated turkeys.
“No sooner chained to the railings you dread the escape, pawing at the lock like a sleeper, just awake” breathily intones Sam at the start of the nominal title track L.T.G.B., mixing techno beats with hints of Yes-like keyboards, evoking a dreamscape to soothe the feted inevitability of it all. This seems to be developing into something of an album theme; we are all doomed to repeat the same mistakes. And no, I have not decoded “L.T.G.B.” in case you were wondering.
Keyboard woodwind introduces Seldom Used Furniture where we “find a lost absolution behind seldom used furniture…knock yourself out”, and Berceuse floats in on a mist that builds and falls on the crest of a wave of stately grandeur, underlining the breadth of influence and sheer otherness of the music on this album. Less dense than the debut record, it gives the listener a chance to get right inside the grooves, and get lost in a state of focussed contemplation.
The desperately sad Embers laments a dying relationship and is accompanied by the ghost of Syd winding filaments through the zeros and ones, and the two songs that follow rummage about in the troubled psyche of the protagonist to a highly melancholy soundtrack that is always interesting, never falling into musical cliché. There is a lot going on here and none of it is trite, or by rote.
The closing ten minute epic Earth Mound Square is a surprise, on an album full of surprises. Coming out of left field it sounds like a Cluster & Eno experiment found on Conny Plank’s cutting room floor, on top of which Sam has layered his own minor key drone and chiming vocal, this time accentuating the positive.
A Sleeper, Just Awake is an unusual but highly accessible album, brimful of ideas, the whole taking post-rock somewhere new. This, my dear readers, can mean only one thing – A Sleeper, Just Awake is actually progressive.
You can find out more about the album and Sam Healy’s world in my interview with him, HERE.
01. Mayfly (5:14)
02. L.T.G.B. (4:18)
03. Commitment To The Bit (4:55)
04. Seldom Used Furniture (4:26)
05. Berceuse (3:57)
06. Embers (4:05)
07. Initial (3:13)
08. Coward (6:53)
09. Earth Mound Square (10:31)
Total time – 47:35
Sam Healy – Everything, apart from…
Peter Meighan – Additional Mixing & Production, Ambient Guitar (on Mayfly, Sampled Guitar (on L.T.G.B., Bowed Guitar (on Berceuse, Bass & Banjo (on Embers)
Ross McGowan – Mastering
Record Label: Vineland Music
Year of Release: 2016