The Gathering – Sleepy Buildings
22/06/2004 § Leave a comment
Obviously Century Media intend to siphon off as much from The Gathering as possible, so here we have what will probably be the first in a long line of dregs squeezed from the Gathering vat. However, if the future holds releases like this one, then people should be more than happy to part with their money. My only hope is that the level of quality continues and we aren’t expected to be thrilled in the future with scores of B-sides and ‘as yet unreleased’ material.
After Souvenirs a lot of us weren’t sure where The Gathering were going to go, but maybe that’s one of the joys with sticking with such a progressive band over the years, you never know where they’re going to take you next. As in so many of these cases, unless their next work is really genuinely awful, the chances are that you’ll end up liking it whatever it is, and even if you’re really not sure about it you can convince yourself that it’s a masterpiece ahead of its time and that neither you nor the majority of fans have the insight to understand what an enigma of an album it is, but you’re fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to hear it anyway.
Though that may be somewhat true of Souvenirs, it is not the case here. Nor is Sleepy Buildings the next stage in the evolution of The Gathering’s sound, but a live acoustic album comprising of some reworking of old numbers and a few new tunes. So The Gathering come on stage, everyone is told to sit down and behave themselves – you can’t have crowd-surfing and bottles being thrown at acoustic gigs – and then they proceed to play one of the most fantastic sets I have ever heard.
I’m generally cynical when it comes to live albums. The recording industries rub their hands with glee and can’t get enough of the ‘die-hard’ fans who absolutely have to get everything that bands come out with. For instance, I’m a big Radiohead fan and I have to get everything that they’ve ever produced, however, as a result I’m quite indiscriminate, I’d even buy a recording of Thom Yorke shitting into a teapot if it were available [now that’s progressive]. However, Sleepy Buildings is no live album to be cynical about. It should never be done the disservice of being thought of as just ‘one of those’ live albums that the label releases to flesh out the band’s back catalogue [can you say Superheat?] because it is nothing short of 14 tracks of sheer acoustic bliss. This is really Anneke laid bare and for the first time we get to hear her in a tailor-made acoustic setting. These unplugged albums may make quite a few bands nervous since there’s very little to mask the vocal inconsistencies and not every singer passes the live test with flying colours. However, although going off a few times, Anneke sounds as gorgeous as ever, and exhibits a rare trait – a development in the sound of her voice. After all, she has been in this is game a while now, and as a result she sounds smoother and more mature. A lot of singers do have the advantage of having a voice that can change and mellow over the years, depending on how they’ve treated it and what they’ve been singing. They say that jazz singers ideally reach their vocal peak at around age 40, and though I dare say that other singers have really timed out [Cadaveria’s vocal chords must look like over-barbecued bacon rinds], Anneke has developed wonderfully, and I’m sure there’s further to go.
The are some truly fine moments on this album, the piano reworking of Saturnine, the quiet chorus of Eleanor, and the way that Anneke sings My Electricity is as perfect as on How To Measure a Planet. But the beauty of this album doesn’t stop there. The Mirror Waters is six minutes of bright, shimmering acoustic bliss whereas the title track is three of the best minutes you’ll have in your life. Material of this quality makes me think that The Gathering have almost completely transcended any musical category that they have delved into. However, it’s hard to really pinpoint where Sleepy Buildings fits. Sometimes it’s rocky, sometimes it’s almost jazzy, but then The Gathering do produce music that defies categorization, proving that we don’t have to stuff music into a box and label it so that we can all enjoy it.
There is something genuinely special about Sleepy Buildings, and something that at the moment makes it stand tall above anything else I have heard this year. 2004 has been particularly devoid of decent music and a lot of us are standing round scratching our heads wondering what has happened to the world. This album crept modestly into the market at the beginning of the year but now stands plainly and un-snobbishly above any other album I have come across in the last six months. It is an inspiring and elevating journey through some of The Gathering’s best moments. I didn’t really have high expectations for this, but I am shocked and thrilled at how The Gathering can consistently prove that they are some of the best in the business. As far as entertaining and uplifting performances come, this is pretty close to a ten.