A Leap Forward
For a few years now, Oxfordshire duo Thomas Keogh and Gregory Munday have threatened to make the leap from a promising collective, to a realisation of talent and potential. With their newest single, we might finally be seeing Sleeper Service proving themselves, and making truly excellent music from now on.
It's apt that 'metamorphic' might prove to be the moment of transformation in Sleeper Service's growing catalogue. In the past, I've criticised this group's music for sticking too closely to long-proven formulas and established pop expectations, but, for perhaps the first time in their output, 'metamorphic' arrives as a song making a pronounced effort to subvert expectations with consistently interesting stylistic decisions. Much of my criticism was aimed at a tendency to stick too firmly to verse-chorus-repeat schematics, which are perfectly serviceable, but 'metamorphic' is a song that dispels any suggestion that Sleeper Service have compositional limitations. Phasing between three distinct sections, strung along with a purposeful design not entirely dissimilar to Fleet Foxes' Crack-Up, 'metamorphic' is a refreshing rejection of formula. A compelling verse dissipates into (what is easily) the best chorus the duo have ever conceived, and then - just to spoil listeners even further - fades away into a Frank Ocean-inspired coda, somewhere in an aether between 'Nights' and The Neighbourhood's 'The Beach'.
It's not a perfect deviation into multi-part song structures, but its a real surprise from a group that hadn't previously demonstrated much of an interest in these structural experimentations. The transition at [0:51] might've needed expanding to feel fulfilling, in particular, and the ticking clock clock at [1:14] feels a little uninspired. When that chorus hits though? Man. Between the (wonderfully 'SICKO MODE' reminiscent) keys, *that* bass note at [1:30] and Munday providing the best vocal performance I've ever heard from him, this chorus has infested my head for days. Its a song of magnificent execution, and easily the best single Sleeper Service have ever made.
It's got a brilliant confidence, breezing through colossal instrumentation and tightly woven melodies. Its assured, determined to demonstrate itself as a shining example of what independent producers can accomplish, but I'd be dishonest if I called it faultless, which at times I've been quite close to thinking. I find the vinyl-crackle vocal interlude a bit uninteresting, and it certainly takes up a lot of the track. Unfortunately, immediately after it, there's also an attempt at a swirling echo of vocal lines and instrumental build-up that doesn't really live up to its clear Blonde parallels, despite offering a lot of promise too. Lasting a minute long, the whole section of [2:29-3:32] sits in a bit of a no-mans-land, being too long to feel like a satisfying build up to the track's fantastic final thirty seconds, but also not standing out strong enough as its own instrumental section like, for example, the ambient ending to Fleet Foxes' 'Third of May/Ōdaigahara'.
But the fact that I'm comparing Sleeper Service to artists and songs as colossal as these should be an indication of 'metamorphic's undeniable quality. For my money, there is not an underground group capable of the quality of production that this duo concocts out of Abingdon's Sleepy Studios. Simply put, this is as good as independent music gets when it comes to clarity and shine behind the mixing desk. But that's not new, Sleeper Service have always produced music with an astonishing professionalism. What is new however, is how the group has begun to harness their production capabilities to truly benefit their music.
It would be easy, I'm sure, for producers as talented as Keogh to overload his music with constant demonstrations of his ability. What's more impressive, I think, is in his restraint. There are so many little details dispersed throughout the song, but each and every one of them contributes in a substantial way. The echoed melody at [0:21], the selection of drum sounds, the design of the vocal harmonies. Everything is done with such an attention to detail, and while the experimentation of the track's third section might last a little too long, its still so fantastic to hear Keogh and Munday pushing themselves as musicians into new directions. It becomes a canvas to which Sleeper Service paint impressionistically onto, using colours and shapes we haven't encountered before through their music, and it's a demonstration that this group are more than capable of developing into artists of undeniable capability.
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Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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