There’s a reason second drafts exist, and Evan Caminiti’s solo album Dreamless Sleep is a hell of a second draft. The LP was first recorded in San Francisco in winter 2011; a year later, Caminiti (one half of guitar duo Barn Owl) revisited the material—a collection of 4-track recordings—and reworked it. The layers that surface over the course of 40 minutes aren’t only the result of overlapping analog and digital, or guitar and synth—they’re also stratified units of time, like rings on a tree stump.
Caminiti writes that after treating the old recordings in new ways, he was able to make an album that better reflects the themes he considered back in 2011: “The way our memory changes events in the past and how our surroundings define us.” Surroundings is an apt word to use here. Each track seems hardwired to totally surround the listener. Caminiti takes the same macro approach as Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky, drawing out formless instrumentals until they aren’t songs so much as meditations. He goes for big sounds instead of precise ones. He takes a few choice chords and starts digging into them until he gets to the other side.
Describing the songs on Dreamless Sleep is like trying to describe a starry night sky—work too hard at pinpointing what makes it special and you end up sounding like a dizzy astrologer. “Absteigend” is shimmery and relatively mellow, while “Bright Midnight” is a mess of tape hiss and slashes of distortion. “Symmetry” and “Becoming Pure Light” oscillate between high, airy synths and dark and sludgy guitars. Owing to clever sound manipulation, every now and then a faux-human choir sneaks into the mix.
If this all sounds overwrought, under-focused and self-indulgent, well, it might be. But this album doesn’t evoke the image of Evan Caminiti, sitting in a dark room, digitizing old cassettes and noodling on a Fender for hours on end. It’s not self-indulgent because there’s no self to be found in it. There’s only the story of recording sounds, then coming back to them with a new perspective and starting over again, almost anew. The story is about the sounds, not about Caminiti. He has accomplished a rare disappearing act: by rehashing and cut-and-pasting and endlessly manipulating the original tapes, he erases himself and buries his intent between the layers. Many musicians watermark every second of their albums with their signature, but not Caminiti, and that’s what makes his album surprisingly individual.