Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Of Natural History
s well as having a madcap name, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum look wacky: face paint, braids, hair shaved in obtuse places, waistcoats, fishnets and cow masks. Fair enough if a band want to make a big deal of performing live and get suited up like The Afghan Whigs or even Slipknot, but looking like a cross between a hung-over Juggalo and a nine year olds interpretation of Marilyn Manson has never made me reach for my wallet. There’s just something annoying and depressing to me about bands that look like wannabe circus attendants. As such, Sleepytime have been on the periphery of my vision since about 2001, but the fact they looked like rag week twats put me off despite slim connections to the erratic and sometimes brilliant Mr Bungle.
The expectation of clichéd pointlessly intricate and deliberately complex time changes performed by a multicoloured chimera complete with cacophonous squawking tubas is utterly dispelled by Of Natural History. In the best possible way this album sounds more like a label sampler than a band release; prime cuts from a selection of likeminded but musically diverse collectives doing what they do. Aren’t bands supposed to use their second LP to consolidate their sound and secure themselves a place in the market? Did someone miss a meeting? It’s rare enough to find a band’s career spanning collection that sounds like someone even attempted to look beyond a signature sound, never mind the work of several totally different groups of people. Sure plenty bands and fans talk the talk (They used a marimba!) but seldom few ‘guitar centred bands’ actually treat their releases with any kind of real imagination beyond traditional rock formats. It’s not hard to fall for their manic style switching when it’s as melodic, energetic and exciting as this, especially considering they appear to have ditched the annoying slapstick sonics of fellow experimental Californian acts.
Welcoming the listener with some portentous snarls and a piece of Twin Peaks Red Room style satanic lounge music in “A Hymn to the Morning Star”, the group then settles into giving the listener a real ‘what the fuck is going on’ type of experience. “Hymn” bleeds into “The Donkey-Headed Adversary of Humanity Opens the Discussion”, a Primus related sludgy thrash which goes via dense, professionally produced World music Bavarian cartoon Folk Metal. Changes like this prevail throughout the album but due to strong doses of melody, at no point does it become difficult to get acclimatised to the changes. The album’s Wurlitzer feel slams through clattering percussive Neubauten / Rammstein hybrids, fourteen minute Lloyd Webber musical numbers (“Babydoctor”) and very ugly Bad Seeds funk. Time signatures buckle and expand; stop, start and rewind, while bent riffs and violins twist around the pliable song structures. For some reason a couple of tracks fall back on a minor league Evanescence tip with excessively effusive theatrical male / female duetting vocals. Bad move.
Sleepytime are most probably going to remain on to the far left of the mainstream with this release, not because its too complex or too out there, but most likely because everything about them screams we don’t want it or need it. The album ends with a field recording of some rednecks looking for gators amongst a wall of birds, crickets, frogs, insects and a man roaring like a twat in the bushes. Wacky, eh?
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2004-10-18