My brother and I are driving in Vermont, on our way to the heaving metropolis that is Burlington. We’re up in the mountains, it’s mid-autumn, the sky is deepening in blacks and the roads are winding. The car is a cocoon, neon lights from the dash casting that instrumental glow over our faces as I slide the Big Sleep’s Son of the Tiger into the player. And the music just hits us: It’s so big, relentless and psychedelic. It’s the perfect soundtrack for rushing down the cold mountain road; the swells of the music mimic the pulse of the car around the bends and over the little crests as we make our way down and down.
The Big Sleep is a New York City-based three-piece. It’s just drums, guitar, and bass, but oh how the members put it all together-and their music doesn’t sound like Mogwai, Russian Circles, or Godspeed You Black Emperor. They pick up where the Verve could have gone with the wig-outs on its first two records, or where shoegazers like Slowdive only hinted at going. Throw in some heavy riffs and layers of My Bloody Valentine-drizzled haze, and that’s the sound of the Big Sleep’s take on (mostly) instrumental songs. When Sonya Balchandani’s (bass and vocals) voice slithers over the cacophony, it’s chilling. Her voice is thick and lustrous, the lyrics rolling like velvet off her tongue. Rather than turning over the already-stripped dry soil of ’80s angular rock or ’70s street sleaze, the members of the Big Sleep are invoking the ghosts of psychedelia and poking the not-quite-cold corpse of shoegazer pop with a well-aimed toe. The songs sound quite dark but with an energy that crackles bright and warm.
“You Can’t Touch the Untouchable” makes just as much use of silence as it does of instrumentation, with its pauses like held breaths interrupting the groove. The angular drums are reminiscent of Can, with the sticks clicking the cymbal and metronomic precision. Add the thrumming bass line and guitars with the bite of jet engines roaring overhead, and just nod your head. “Brown Beauty” and “Shima” are shot through with so much urgency that the songs threaten to combust as they shoot into the speakers. “Menemy” is a shimmering love song without any words to get in the way. Closer “New Strings” swings and sways, swelling with a sweet hopefulness carried on the melody. It just builds and builds, ever ascending, an uplifting way to ease out of an emotionally charged debut album.