Japancakes - The Sleepy Strange

Darla
(DRL191: 708527019122/DRL191-3)
Release date: 02/13/2001
Genre: Rock, Ambient



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Building on the accessible experimentation on If I Could See Dallas and the Down the Elements EP, Japancakes' aptly named second album, The Sleepy Strange, is both dreamy and earthy, complex and immediate, and challenging and soothing. Though their modus operandi -- repeating melodic phrases for hours at a time to highlight the subtle shifts in tone and rhythm -- remains the same, The Sleepy Strange is the band's most cohesive work to date, yet it keeps all of the spontaneous beauty of their previous releases. If anything, the slightly more focused sound highlights the band's strong melodies and interplay, making it one of the warmest, most inviting post-rock albums since Jim O'Rourke's Eureka, which also featured a fair amount of Japancakes' secret weapon, the pedal steel guitar. Whether it takes the lead, as on the opening waltz "The Waiting," or adding to the weightless beauty of "Disconnect the Cables"' avant soft rock, the group's masterful use of the instrument gives the music a dreamy, strangely western-tinged timelessness. The surprisingly propulsive "Soft N EZ" adds naive-sounding analog synths to fiddles and pedal steel, highlighting the group's highly inventive (and somewhat startling) mix of styles and sounds within one track. This is also Japancakes' most varied album, both musically and emotionally; "This Year's Beat" subtly shifts from brooding to assuring, while the loopy, languid title track and the dark string- and keyboard-driven finale, "Vinyl Fever," couldn't be farther apart in sound or mood. Hypnotically beautiful, The Sleepy Strange is the best representation yet of Japancakes' exciting repetitions, and one of 2001's best albums. --ALL MUSIC GUIDE.


The Sleepy Strange is one of our all-time favorite records, ranking right up there with Music For Airports, Treasure, and Loveless. But Japancakes are as much part Harmonia, Pink Floyd, and Buck Owens as they are Eno, MBV, and Cocteaus. Imagine if Ravi Shankar was from Bakersfield and played pedal steel... Japancakes is an instrumental project formed in 1997 in Athens (Georgia) by Eric Berg, a big fan of Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. Legend has it that, originally, Berg assembled this ensemble to play a Steve Reich-ian Minimalist composition made of only a single chord for one hour. The Sleepy Strange (Originally released: Kindercore, 2001) contains seven lengthy jams that were fully improvised with no rehearsals. This time the cello of Heather McIntosh and the keyboards of Todd Kelly join the pedal steel in directing the hypnotic, droning and symphonic sound.

1. The Waiting, 2. Disconnect the Cables, 3. This Year's Beat, 4. Vanishing Point, 5. Soft N EZ, 6. The Sleepy Strange, 7. Vinyl Fever

"The way it works," Berg explains, "is the guitarist will come in and lay down a track and leave. Then each member will do the same and nobody really knows what it's gonna sound like until the CD is done." And when the CD is done, the world is given a work that is at once unique, born of a casual attitude, and still stunningly beautiful and affecting. --onlineathens.com

"It's certainly a distinctive sound. While it adds an undeniable (and thoroughly welcome) country-rock twang to the group's music, it also plays to our conceptions of the whole Athens, GA musician lifestyle. It is slow and lazy, but possessed of unmistakable charm and refreshing honesty. These lazy, loping riffs are the sound of music that gets up at noon. Music that eats half a left-over burrito for breakfast. Music that doesn't wear shoes. --Splendid.com

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