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Too Much Sleep

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Album Review

Helped by first album vets Rick and French horn player Coby Batty, Magnuson and Kramer whip up another set of sometimes squalling, sometimes weirdly pretty, but always just off-balance enough songs on Too Much Sleep. Covers again surface here, though generally done more in a spirit of appreciation rather than destruction. Two of Bongwater's witty art rock forebears Slapp Happy and the Soft Machine get the nod with fine takes on, respectively, "The Drum" (complete with a lyrical alteration or two to match Bongwater's name) and "Why Are We Sleeping." Meanwhile, American roots also get acknowledged with a nice run through the 13th Floor Elevators' "Splash 1." Fun though these are, though, it's the originals which deservedly take center stage, mixing often thick, fuzzy production, quirky pop, psychedelic strangeness, and especially Magnuson's singing and speaking abilities. Her spoken word pieces really come to the fore here, more than once resulting in overlapping recitations thanks to the joys of multi-tracking. "The Bad Review" takes a pan from Rolling Stone as a launching point for a surreal tale, while "Then the Babies Return" puts together a strange recollection of family with strange synth-pop backing. Even when the lyrics sometimes head out to realms of the curious, the music is often captivating. The title track is a great example of the group's musical chops, an at once soothing and strange vocal performance matched by Batty's French horn, seaside noises, and guitar playing and production that won't surprise anyone familiar with Kramer's work producing Galaxie 500. A number of songs feature joint Kramer/Magnuson vocal takes, which often manages the neat trick of making things sound like a folky campfire sing-along in a radically different context. A special note should be given to the nutty album cover, done in a chunky end of the '60s lettering that seems perfectly appropriate for, say, an early Black Sabbath opening act.


Formed: 1985 in United States

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

As much a performance art troupe as a band, Bongwater was the brainchild of guitarist (Mark) Kramer -- chief of the Shimmy-Disc label and a former member of Shockabilly -- and actress Ann Magnuson, best known to mainstream audiences for her role in the ABC sitcom Anything But Love as well as the feature film Making Mr. Right. Kramer and Magnuson first met at her downtown New York nightspot Club 57, where he engineered the sound for her performances with the all-female percussion group Pulsalamma;...
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