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The Sleepy Strange

Japancakes

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Album Review

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.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Improvisational drone-pop orchestra Japancakes was the brainchild of Athens, GA-based musician Eric Berg, who in 1997 had the idea of organizing a group of ten musicians to take the stage without any previous rehearsals all for the sake of playing a single "D" chord for 45 minutes. Fascinated by the subtle changes and imperfections which textured the performance, Berg began mounting other experiments within a similar conceptual framework; although the onstage lineup often expanded to as many as a...
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The Sleepy Strange, Japancakes
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