There's always hype surrounding a side-project. With hype, though, come expectations: is it as good? Why should I bother? On Team Sleep's self-titled debut, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno is in a good place to answer the critics. For one, Team Sleep is categorically not a supergroup (although Moreno does enlist help from Pinback's Rob Crow and Helium's Mary Timony, among others). Where Audioslave consistently has a commercially, and more important, critically high template to live up to, Moreno is really the only well-known member of Team Sleep. That they've been able to exist under the radar of expectations for years -- the idea was born in 1994, the first tracks not laid until 2001 -- has aided the band's growth, allowing time to put out the record without any unneeded pressure.
That said, Team Sleep feels not quite complete. For incorporating ambient techno and drum 'n' bass into the hard-rock format, Team Sleep is exciting. Like a science experiment, though, sometimes mixing the ingredients works, but sometimes they gather at the bottom and nothing happens. On Moreno's tracks, the band, anchored by the technical and flawless drumming of Hella's Zach Hill, focuses on space and melody over straight heavy rock, using drum loops, piano, longer instrumental passages and less adherence to conventional song structure. The results, especially on "Ataraxia," perfectly exemplify the band's ethos of stretching hard rock's boundaries.
Unfortunately, the album isn't as consistent as Moreno's songs. "Princeton Review" and "11/11," both sung by Crow, drag under slow, programmed drums. Crow's voice is too thin, weakening the music behind him. Indicative of Moreno's power as a singer, and Sleep's strengths as a tight, heavy band with experimental leanings, that the songs that bring to mind Deftones tracks are not only the strongest, but the most interesting. "Ever (Foreign Flag)" and "Our Ride to the Rectory" both put Moreno's earnest, aggressive delivery in the foreground while bringing to mind the best songs off 2000's White Pony, spiced with unconventional time signatures and creative bits of kitchen-sink techno.
Several of the instrumental tracks on Team Sleep are grating in their reckless experimenting and over-production. But for all Moreno adds -- and for all Crow detracts -- the standout track is "Live from the Stage," a predominantly instrumental song (Moreno's voice screams from afar) that conjures Tool's Lateralus and Deftones' melodic assault. Best of all, it succeeds where parts of the album don't. By adding the right ingredients at the right time, it explodes.
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