Ever the proponents of succinctly entitled albums, five-piece San Francisco ensemble Sleepy Sun craft a kaleidoscopic work of restless wanderings embracing late ‘60s folk and early ‘70s psychedelia with their latest Spine Hits. While not ousted completely, the heavy, spaced out jams that defined lush debut Embrace have mostly dissipated. In its place, Sleepy Sun cultivates a far more accessible pathway into the genre of psychedelia with their third release, fluctuating more towards modern psych pop.
Spine Hits digs well into its roots, a testament to the band’s varying influences. Standout track “Siouxie Blaqq” reverberates with soft buildups characteristic to Fleetwood Mac and Surrealistic Pillow-era Jefferson Airplane. Lead male vocalist Bret Constantino softly croons “Where are you off to, when did you get off track?” right before rising into a bass-heavy jam. With the undeniably catchy “She Rex” and “Creature,” Sleepy Sun cements its family band aesthetic in the realm of Akron/Family, unhurried and retrospective. Simultaneously the brooding “Lioness (Requiem)” displays a deep, rambling love for classic rock, particularly Led Zeppelin, despite the band’s recent deviation in sound. Twangy track “Boat Trip” fits well with the impending summer, triggering a nostalgia for idle afternoons lying in the park, crunchy grass tickling your skin.
Most notably Spine Hits displays a tremendous shift in sound, particularly with ethereal female vocalist Rachel Fannan leaving the band. While Constantino’s vocals are pleasant to listen to, the combination of both male and female vocals were a marvelous centerpiece in preceding albums Embrace and Fever. Fannan’s newfound absence from Sleepy Sun jolts the dedicated listener, like being caught unexpectedly in an empty room. Well-intentioned wanderlust that leans more toward aimless ambling, Spine Hits feels too spacious, lacking the depth that both Fannan’s swelling vocals and improvised jams filled with the band’s two previous releases.
Regardless, Spine Hits is an enjoyable listen, especially with the windows down. Less an album and more of a trail of yellowing postcards, it traces the nomadic roots of a band that finds its home tucked in between the vastness of the open road. Never cemented in one particular place, Spine Hits embodies those days of endless drives underneath the desert sun. So much sky ahead, it’s overwhelming to breathe it all in at once.