By Rich Hobson
Subgenres can be ridiculous. From ‘goblin metal’ (which surprisingly wasn’t made up by the NME) to ‘sadcore’, rock bands are increasingly trying their hand at self-identification. But then, who can blame them? With over five decades of releases, innovations and experimentation, no genre is quite so complex or bloated with sub-genres as rock and metal. In its perpetual call for revolution, rock music has painted itself into a tidy corner where so much has already been done that modern bands all too often fall into one of two categories: bands with an only-slightly different take on everything that’s come before (i.e. Royal Blood, Foals, the majority of modern rock ‘success stories’) or bands who don’t do what they’re supposed to.
SleepMakesWaves don’t do what rock bands are supposed to. Usually filed under the ‘post-rock’ (sub)genre, SleepMakesWaves exist in a place where the verse/chorus/verse backbone of rock music is ignored and riffs are treated with total disdain in favour of complex melodic compositions. Like many a post-whatever band before them, SleepMakesWaves aren’t interested in crafting songs for pure mass appeal, instead relying on sheer musicianship to give a sense that sound is king.
From the serene shoegaze-inspired intro of ‘Our Days Were Polar’ to the PUP-like pop-punk kick off on ‘Worlds Away’, SleepMakesWaves follow the music wherever it goes. This gives Made of Breath Only a carefully constructed, chaotic feel, forcing the listener to hone in on the dynamics between clattering drum-kits and breezy guitar tones. With no vocalist to account for, the music never lets up, shifting pace and tone quickly and without needing to pause for breath. This also lends the band an inherent sense of otherness; not quite settling in any one generic field. Where a song might start out in modern pop-punk territory, it could later spiral into ostentatious prog pomp a la Coheed and Cambria or even touch on post-black metal dissonance, without ever departing from the band’s core aural template.
As deep as the rock genre goes, the vein of instrumental rock remains somewhat untapped even in the contemporary rock scene. Bands from as far afield as the USA (Karma To Burn, Zombi), Europe (Toundra), the UK (Brontide) and Australia (SleepMakesWaves) have all begun to make their mark on the modern rock consciousness. Yet, no two acts are the same, in aesthetic or in style. The only constant between these acts is a powerful sense of creativity and musicianship, ambitious sonic artistry married to some excellent melodies for a huge pay-off.
Made of Breath Only is an exemplary case of this, enormous in scope and execution yet inherently accessible and lacking the rampant egotism which can all-too-often mar an instrumental act. There are no masturbatory guitar solos on this album, nor any fatuous ten-minute drum solos which do nothing but allow the band to take a piss-break when they’re playing live. For an example of just how big the band can go, stick on the likes of ‘The Edge of Everything’, a track which acts as a crescendo for the album’s first ‘act’. Compared to the pure wistful melody of the album’s title track (which then bleeds steadily into subsequent track ‘Into the Arms of Ghosts’), these changes in pace lend the album a sense of narrative, albeit interpretative.
The post-rock and instrumental genres are only now truly finding their feet in the modern rock zeitgeist, as acts like SleepMakesWaves dispel notions of the genre being tired or boring. Though it may not be the most inventive album of its genre (currently, that probably goes to Toundra’s IV – an instrumental built around the concept of a couple of foxes trying to escape a forest fire), Made of Breath Only is a fantastic foray into what can be achieved with spectacular musicianship and an eye to creating huge crescendos. SleepMakesWaves aren’t the ‘saviours of rock music’ so desperately sought by areas of the music press, but they do make a strong case for alternatives to the rock music we have become used to.