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Album Review: Sleepwave – Broken Compass

Sleepwave

Artist: Sleepwave
Album: Broken Compass
Tracks: 11
Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: 15th September

Sleepwave is a new rock band from the former Underoath vocalist, Spencer Chamberlain, and they’ve recently released their début album, Broken Compass. This release was highly anticipated by a lot of rock-enthusiasts (and no-doubt by many Underoath fans), and the first single The Wolf got many people excited to hear the release in full, including us.

Beginning with a few lone piano notes forming an eerie, yet grand-sounding melody, the first track on Broken Compass is titled Paper Planes. This melody is the subtle introduction to not only the song, but the entire album, and for better or worse, is followed by a sound that is very representative of most of, if not all, of the tracks on the album to some degree.

Following those piano notes is a fusion of distortion-filled chords being played alongside various electronic sounds, from synthesisers to guitar parts splashed with digital effects. Chamberlain’s vocals alongside the rest of the instrumentation is more-or-less still very typical in many ways, forming an alternative-sounding rock track with a catchy chorus.

I’m not really sure that this release is breaking new ground musically by any measure, but it is accessible and does still bring a lot musically for casual listeners and fans of the alternative rock genre.

In Sleepwave’s single, The Wolf, there is a sense of genuine fun, passion and energy that got us really excited about this album’s release, but in reality, I’m not too convinced that there is enough diversity within the rest of Broken Compass to make it memorable or continuously enjoyable. 

There’s definitely some really cool elements to the release though, regardless of the lack of variety throughout the tracklist. Listening to this album for a while now, I have to admit that I’ve become a bit of a sucker for Chamberlain’s extremely catchy choruses, whether that’s in Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I, Paper Planes, The Wolf or others. Although, even given these infectiously enjoyable vocal parts, overall Chamberlain’s vocals are pretty similar sounding to each other from start and finish. There’s some great vocal ability being shown in terms of what is being sung, but there’s a feeling that Chamberlain is really, really good at this one vocal style (which given his previous musical content, is almost certainly not the case). This leads to some very, very generic-sounding tracks and actually becomes close to irritating. I would love to have heard a variety of pitches, vocal phrasing and whatever else Chamberlain could throw into the mix (perhaps like some of his screaming which isn’t very common throughout this album), but instead listeners are stuck with the same vocal range song after song, with Chamberlain only really breaking this style to more-or-less speak some of his lyrics opposed to singing them.

One thing that was quite ambitious (although is seriously becoming common in today’s music scenes) is the implementation of lots of electronic parts and a very busy-sounding overall mix. However, it’s not very innovative by today’s standards, and in all honesty has kind of become something that people seem to be throwing into their music to make themselves seem contemporary or ‘with the times’ in some way. This can be done well, but it has to be done right. Having said that Sleepwave have surprisingly managed to infuse these elements successfully into Broken Compass in a some ways, making the electronic parts of their compositions add a depth of darkness and/or energy to their music (like some great soundscaping towards the end of Repeat Routine), but I definitely feel these elements over-used, used quite crudely and sometimes just make the band sound like they’re trying way too hard to be new and exciting.

Sleepwave oneIf Sleepwave’s composition of their music is generally dark and energetic, then their lyrical content is rather suited to that. Both the titles of the songs and the lyrics within them are rather negative and seem to revolve around Chamberlain feeling lost, resenting people and events, and generally sounding pretty defeated or unsatisfied. It’s not a problem for lyrical content to be so negative, as it’s very real and makes the music feel genuine, with Broken Compass however, I’m not sure if it’s the lack of variety in the instrumentation and vocal style or something else, but I can’t help but feel about three quarters into the album that Chamberlain should relax a little bit. I’m not unsympathetic to Chamberlain’s emotions, but I get the feeling that it’s not all genuine and it’s all quite dramatic and emphasised to enhance the theme of the album. Song titles like Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I, Disgusted : Disguised, Replace Me and Repeat Routine all sound brilliantly on-point for an album like this, and are probably so well-suited to certain markets of fans and so dramatised that they could easily be called cliché.

Overall, Sleepwave’s Broken Compass is an album that shows a lot of potential for the band, but also brings a lot of concern. This album feels like it has been manufactured to be very accessible, and the worry for me is that it also feels over-produced and has been tailored to be a great product to bring the band into the limelight, rather than a great and genuine release. I can see Sleepwave becoming popular to many that love this kind of commercial-sounding alternative rock music, with the catchy choruses and the trendy instrumentation, but is that what the band has aimed for? I don’t believe so. I think that Sleepwave are just trying to have a bit of fun and are trying to have a play around with this kind of accessible-sounding music, whilst finding their feet and a happy balance between experimentation, accessibility and success. That said, I feel Sleepwave could have more to offer if their music sounded a little more raw and real, if Chamberlain explored more with his vocals and so much of their material didn’t sound so similar and polished.

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