Sleeping at Last—Storyboards
By Curt Devine
August 3, 2009
As the title implies, the album is about creating stories, not just catchy hooks.
Like a good book or movie, Sleeping At Last’s [check out our interview with the band here] third album cannot be fully appreciated on the first pass.Storyboards has depth and layered meaning—proof that the trio from Chicago is less interested in writing catchy music and more concerned with making great art. Although Sleeping At Last has toured with bigger acts Switchfoot, The Format and Something Corporate, they continue to carve their own niche in the music scene.
Storyboards [stream the full album for free on The Drop] may be mellower than the band’s previous two releases, yet with frontman Ryan O’Neal’s matured lyrics and melodies, it has more to say. The opening track "Porcelain" illustrates this with the lines, “So I reached deeper in and pulled my whole world wide open, and for each broken mile, a billion miracles happen at once… in everything.” When read alone, O’Neal’s lyrics flow poetically, and although they are deeply personal and revealing, they also challenge listeners to reflect on their own lives. For this reason, Storyboards is an appropriate name. Each of the twelve songs is a story packed with meaning and emotion; the album can both inspire and convict.
The album’s instrumentation is another point of originality. Many of the songs are driven by ukulele, which causes them to feel as though they were written in a far off time and place. The song “Slow & Steady” is an impressive crescendo that begins with the Hawaiian instrument and builds into a full orchestra of violin and piano, nicely complimenting O’Neal’s melody. “Clockwork” may be the most notable song on the album, sounding as though it could have been written for an early 20th-century musical. Its strings were arranged by legend Van Dyke Parks, who has worked with the likes of U2, The Beach Boys and Joanna Newsom (he also contributed to the song “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book).
While many bands only experiment with unconventional instruments—tamboras, ukuleles, mandolins and cellos—Sleeping At Last has built an entire album with them. It’s a success not because the instruments are different, but because they use them well. In fact, the sound is fairly organic, relying very little on auto-tuning and effects. On their previous work, Keep No Score, many songs reached their climax with guitars tweaked by delay pedals and reverb. Now, this "electric" method seems to have been abandoned, and big-sounding songs like “Timelapse” reach their highpoint with almost nothing but acoustic instruments. For modern indie bands, this is rare.
Aside from being a record of sound, the album is also very visual. Its artwork was provided by painter Geoff Benzing and contributes to the overall theme of life’s beauty and mystery. Additionally, O’Neal seems to use a lot of imagery in his lyrics to visually convey meaning, such as in “Green Screens” (see video above) where he sings, “On miles and miles of green screens love hangs on invisible strings.” The effect is strong and further contributes to the originality of the release. Overall, Storyboards is a success. Not only is it creative in itself, it is sure to inspire other artists and musicians to pursue greater levels of creativity in their own work.