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When Sweet Sleep Returned

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Album Review

Like their fellow San Franciscans in Wooden Shjips, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound mix bell-bottomed acid rock with vintage psychedelia, a combination that prizes instrumental prowess and long, skuzzy jams over vocals. Released in 2007, Ekranoplan nearly abandoned lyrics altogether, limiting most of the singing to a series of wordless oohs and aaahs that lent a dreamy, Beach Boys-gone-metal ambience to the album. Released two years later, When Sweet Sleep Returned finds the group devoting more time to vocal ability, with the bulk of the songs featuring melodies modeled after pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd and other psychedelic pioneers. Initially, such vocals threaten to take away from Assemble Head's mystery; the lyrics aren't quite as evocative as the music, and they add earthy weight to what is otherwise an otherworldly blend of percussive thunder and cosmic guitar crunch. As the album progresses, however, Assemble Head's exploration serves them quite well, bolstering the band's interstellar space jams (which are as muscled as they've ever been) with new directions: the atmospheric boy-girl duet of "The Slumbering Ones," the slight British Invasion bent of "Kolob Canyon," and the messy Grateful Dead-styled harmonies of "Two Birds," whose multi-minute outro — and the tangles of organ, theremin, and soloing guitar that accompany it — is an undeniable album highlight. Instrumental freakouts are still the band's bread and butter, but there are some surprisingly lovely moments here, from the intermittent flute flourishes to the cooing, coed harmonies that previously lent a sweetness to Ekranoplan's meaty punch. Like the two albums before it, When Sweet Sleep Returned is a substance-addled soundtrack for California, its songs mirroring a state whose brushfires and natural disasters are tempered by a sense of perennial summer beauty.


Formed: San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s

Taking their energy from just about every frenetic phase of the canon of rock and some blistering live shows, San Francisco's Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound emerged as a trio (Michael Lardas, Jefferson Marshall, and Charlie Saufley) from the West Coast in the early 2000s, and would soon expand -- by the time of 2009's When Sweet Sleep Returned -- to a seven-piece, featuring a bevy of multi-instrumentalists (Anderson Landbridge, Camilla Saufley) and harmony vocalists (Sleepy Sun's Brett Constantino...
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When Sweet Sleep Returned, Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound
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