Just Pretend That I Could Think Of A Pun(cture)
Combining SMPM's very own Tom Keogh and our current featured photographer Gregory Munday, Oxford duo Sleeper Service have been on a mission throughout 2020's lockdown to use their quarantines effectively, and with an accompanying music video amassing some incredibly impressive numbers online, July's 'Punctures' stands out as the duo's best effort among three recently released singles.
Connecting a style somewhere vaguely reflective of Blaenavon and Jamie XX, Sleeper Service's music has stayed faithful to the sounds and songwriting of their impressive 2019 demo EP You Won't Believe the View, but with a significant upgrade in production and recording clarity. Munday and Keogh's vocal deliveries are exceptionally tight again, unsurprisingly. The two’s obvious singing talents are particularly apparent, balancing a soft breathiness with solid deviations into their accomplished falsettos propping up the track as one more excellent example of their musical capabilities.
Lyricising a weariness that will surely strike a chord with many listeners ("this town will squeeze the life out from your bones") the tune slowly accumulates delay-drenched layers of instrumentation between compelling moments of hyper-processed percussion. With airy guitar passages and the eventual inclusion of a drum beat behind the emotive performances of the duo, the track sounds very accomplished for an independent release, and is clearly the product of substantial EQ tinkering and a drive to polish their music to the fullest extent possible. Underground music *very* rarely sounds this complete and well-presented, and considerable praise should be shone on Keogh and Munday for their achievements in making such a radio-ready single.
The track sounds impressive in its hybridisation of a wide variety of influences. Certainly there are shades of Great Grandpa and aforementioned The XX seXXiness embroiled with the emotional transparency of Modern Baseball, but what does hold 'Punctures' back slightly as a single seems to be its uncertainty on precisely what the song is trying to be. Something similar hung over me while enjoying Sleeper Service's previous single 'Fake Machine', in that their music seems to straddle between alt-rock and almost dream pop without fully capitalising on the opportunities that both provide. 'Punctures' is a very good single, but it is arguably a safe one. The beat is simple, the structure straightforward and the melodies and harmonies proving satisfying, yet a little predictable.
Its slow enough in tempo that comparisons to Beach House would seem appropriate, with Sleeper Service being more than capable of delivering an emotional reflectivity like that found on 'Levitation', but on the other hand the song almost feels like it holds a desire to be played as an alt-rock live-show set piece, and I don't think it fits that mould. It could absolutely just be an issue with my personal taste, but for me the latest tracks from Sleeper Service are at a stylistic crossroads. They're good, and sound particularly impressive for an underground release, but I can't help but feel like 'Punctures' finds itself weighed down by the uncertainties of the song's sonic direction.
There are many musical routes that Sleeper Service could move through following this single, and they'll know the pathway forward much better than I do, but I wonder if a slightly riskier approach to their songwriting might offer huge benefits. Whether SS move towards more experimental production, or slower, dreamier instrumentals, there is obviously a huge amount of talent behind the music of this duo to be expressed and added to their already impressively established repertoire, but in the meticulous craft of their soundscapes and vocal deliveries, at times there is almost a lack of individuality in Sleeper Service's pristine offerings. There are moments of wonderful emotional transparency in the track, but I do wonder if a slightly rougher approach to their production (in line with an early Bon Iver or a Julia Jacklin, for example) might unlock the very best at Sleepy Services Inc. It's still a song totally deserving of its place among our "Best of July 2020" playlist, and the future is very bright for Sleeper Service - we cannot wait to see what comes next.
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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 in South Wales.