Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Sleep Bellum Sonno get serious and throw down intense post-hardcore

February 13, 2010

This is the full title of Sleep Bellum Sonno‘s latest album: “Judge Us by How we Lived our Lives not by How we Made our Living. ” I put it in quotes instead of our style-mandated italics because they straight-up used italics in their title. That tells me one thing: SBS is not messing around. This is serious stuff, and they let you know it before the first note hits.

In addition to being really serious, the album is a concept album. Each song has two titles, one that is the title of the song and the second that is the occupation of the narrator, for song titles that look like this: “When I Quit, You Can Put Dirt On Me. (Harvester)” On top of that, only one song has a title less than eight words long.

I put that all out front because some people just can’t stomach the uber-artistic, socially conscious idiom. If you’re still interested after all that, then you’re in for a trip. Sleep Bellum Sonno plays post-hardcore in a vein similar to MeWithoutYou. The two bands share a propensity for intense musical passages accompanied by spoken or hollered vocals, poetic storytelling, and unusual instrumentation. They diverge at the point where the hardcore stops and the other parts begin; mewithoutYou plays groove-heavy, pop-inflected passages, while Sleep Bellum Sonno plays quiet, pensive indie-rock. This isn’t a “one is better than the other” statement; it’s just a statement of what is.

The members of Sleep Bellum Sonno have been around the block, musically. They’re capable of spazz-core (“When the Lights are Low I Can Hear the Devil at My Door”), rock’n’roll (“Rewind, Rewind, Rewind. Tend to Our Stories.”), bass-heavy indie rock (“I’ve Got So Many Prospects but All of Them are Underground”) and more. Their best moments come when they’re alternating between hardcore rage and pensive moments. That’s the two genres that the band really gels in; in other idioms, things just feel a little off. This makes “…Prospects…” one of the better tracks, as calm singing gives way to angry hollering as the music shifts accordingly. There’s nothing in between, and for once that’s really great. Transitions? Who needs them?

The few problems with this album arise from personal taste. I am not a huge fan of the vocal tone employed through most of the album, and that makes a big impression. It’s a pretty nasal voice, but it doesn’t have the sharp edges that mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss developed early on. It has a tendency to wander in pitch, and that’s frustrating to me. It’s the one thing that stopped me from really falling in love with the album.

The long instrumental in “When I Quit, You Can Put Dirt On Me.” is one of my favorite moments on the album, as the sound is pure. The rest of the song helps my case, as there’s group yelling (one of my favorite musical tricks ever!) and hollering that’s secure in attitude and tone. It tells me that there’s still a lot of hope for SBS in the vocal department; they just need to keep writing and experimenting with it.

If you’re a fan of artistic post-rock, Sleep Bellum Sonno’s “Judge Us by How we Lived our Lives not by How we Made our Living. ” is definitely one to check out. It’s on the harder side of the post-hardcore spectrum, in that there are some really loud moments. But if you’re a fan of Blood Brothers,  Fear Before the March of Flames, The Felix Culpa, Chiodos, or Equal Vision records in general, this will please you immensely. Creative, inventive and thoroughly serious, this is an accomplishment.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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