Release DetailsLABEL Century Media
RELEASED ON 1/26/2004
posted on 3/2004 By:
Acoustic albums hardly ever wind up in middle ground; they’re usually either excellent or awful. With just about any music, be it metal or something mellower in nature, it’s very hard to determine what will translate well to an acoustic version. While certainly very pop friendly in its day, the Alice in Chains Unplugged album was a prime example of a success, where Ulver’s Kveldssanger was ultimately uninspiring and quite boring. The Gathering generally play a different style of music than either of those bands did at the points in their career when those albums were released, so it was anyone’s guess how their self-proclaimed “trip-rock” would turn out with the amps turned off and the acoustics brought out. What pains me most about not being blown away by this album is that it’s extremely obvious that the band put tremendous work into rearranging their songs and is very happy and passionate about playing their reworkings. The result is something I’ve never come across before in an acoustic record; for the most part, mediocrity.
When I first heard Sleepy Buildings, I was terribly bored and had nearly no desire to continue listening, but, since I have such respect and admiration for the band because of their previous works, I kept listening and it has grown on me. I’ve had the album for over three months, though, and it’s only made its way from completely bland to pleasant but certainly not awe-inspiring as I’d have liked it to be. It has matured well, but when it only goes so far in such a length of time, it’s hard to imagine that it’ll become anything terribly special in the future. At this point, the best I can say is that it will get continued play when I’m in the mood for music that’s mellow and not at all demanding. It’s something best suited for winding down or reading a book.
The arrangements vary, but are mostly very sparse, and this stripped down quality is what detracts most from the appeal the songs had in their previous incarnations. The Gathering’s best attribute is their density of sound and when that’s taken away, the power they once had is nearly all gone. Another problem with this new bare take is that Anneke’s vocals retain all the power they had on the studio releases the songs came from. That creates quite a discrepancy between the subtleties of the music and the vocals, which are used to drive most of the songs. To her credit, her voice still sounds wonderful, especially impressive considering that this is a live recording, and she does have some moments of tenderness that match the music nicely, but for the most part the singing would do better on a dense studio recording.
Some positive aspects of Sleepy Buildings are the song selection, musicianship, and the production. The songs span nearly the entire career of The Gathering, excluding only their most recent album and EP, Souvenirs and Black Light District respectively. It also includes a new song, the title track that, while brief, is probably the best suited for the environment it’s played in and proof that were they to write an album of new songs geared specifically towards being played on acoustic instruments, they’d do a fine job. A few other songs have turned out very well, but too few to make this a great album. Those that are still highly worth listening to are, “Eleanor”, “Amity”, and the lengthy, but always enjoyable “Travel”. These reworkings require tremendous musical restraint and it’s definitely achieved. None of the instruments are ever dazzlingly technical, but that’s exactly how they should be on an acoustic record. There are absolutely no flaws, and the varying dynamics are well handled. The production is also top notch, something many live recordings lack. This was finely engineered and mixed; all instruments are clear but never intrusive on the others.
Sleepy Buildings isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. There’s nothing that could ever be considered unpleasant, it’s just that many of the things that make The Gathering so special when playing their usual style of music are absent here. I guess that’s the point of an acoustic record, to be stripped down, but that sort of thing can only work for certain bands and still retain the quality of what they regularly play. I’m not saying that fans of the band shouldn’t make it a point to get the album, chances are it will become something you do desire playing occasionally, I’m just a bit disappointed that it didn’t do as much for me as their music usually does. The bottom line is that Sleepy Buildings is very well executed, and played with much enthusiasm from the band, but that level of enthusiasm isn’t too likely to be shared by the listeners.
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