SAND (Sam Healy), A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE (Kscope; forthcoming, September 30, 2016). 9 tracks.
As much as I’d like to start with something artsy (the album deserves it), I’ll just be really, utterly, completely, and totally blunt. This album is extraordinary. After a summer of horrors and violence (not personally, but around the world), this album seems like the necessary art to calm the savage soul. I think this is, quite possibly, Healy’s best.
As I’ve written a number of times before when writing about Healy (solo) and about North Atlantic Oscillation, he does three things with unadulterated excellence.
First, his voice is always perfectly employed—as both an instrument and as an individual artist, letting his personality come through his nearly immaculate vocals. I think Healy’s voice and his use and control over his voice only get betters with each new album. As I’ve noted many times (so, apologies if you’re thinking, yes, we know!) my favorite voice in rock (in terms of beauty) is Susie Bogdanowicz’s from Glass Hammer. But, she has a soaring, church-like quality. In contrast, however, Healy’s is precise and always economical. It’s utterly earnest, while also being quite artistic.
Second, Healy knows exactly how to make an album flow. This is the ultimate goal—to my mind—in all art rock. Healy knows when to make things dance, and when to allow things to linger.
Third, Healy possesses an insanely cool way of mixing a cynical lyric with a wondrous (almost childlike, but certainly not childish) presentation. I’m not sure how he does this, but he does it very well.
My favorite songs—though I like all—are Initial (track 7) and Earth Mound Square (track 9). The transition from Embers to Initial is just jaw-droppingly good, and the woodwinds of Initial moved me so much that I actually had to stop and take a breath (I was hiking, with my headphones on, the first time I heard this).
For almost any reader of Progarchy, though, the key track will be the final one, Earth Mound Square, coming in at 10.5 minutes. In some crazily beautiful way, Healy combines dissonant Celtic strings with Reichian minimalism. The result is pure genius. I could easily and happily listen to a 20- or even 30-minute version of the final track.
Again, A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE is extraordinary. While I’m more than eager to hear the new Glass Hammer and The Tangent, this album is, to my mind, the single finest album release of 2016, thus far. Frost*’s FALLING SATELLITES is its closest rival.
While the A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE will appeal more to the art rock crowd than the progressive crowd, I hope that all will give it a listen and make a purchase or two. Healy deserves all the support we can offer. If you like early-period Thomas Dolby, late period Talk Talk, Kevin McCormick, Rhys Marsh, or Noflypaperhunting, this is must own. Actually, if you like music at all, A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE is a must own.