The impact of COVID 19, as we all know very well, has been devastating for the creative arts in the UK. This hit just as hard on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, as Australia’s creative hub was placed under local lockdown in July.
It’s great, then to see a product of the recent capital of cool escaping out into the world in the form of a debut album by Sleeper & Snake, ‘Fresco Shed’.
Of course, Sleeper and Snake are no novices.
The duo are comprised of Terry members Amy Hill and Al Montfort. However, when approaching the new project from this prolific twosome it’s important to leave expectations somewhat behind.
Sleeper & Snake leaves the jangly upbeat strut of their best-known project at the door in favour of a more subtle, experimental and abstract approach. That’s not to say there is no song structure or that there are not some familiar hallmarks.
They still employ the group singing method, their familiar melodic ear and relatively lo-fi approach.
There is a greater attention to timbral qualities here, with the duo deploying cello, harmonica, saxophone and sarangi into the downbeat mix.
The atmospheric introduction to instrumental opener “Miracles” is beautifully constructed. The duelling saxophones that follow, gently backed by glistening synthesizer, almost sound abstracted from Kaputt minus the crazed cacophony that surrounds them.
The single “Flats Falling” will feel somewhat more familiar to Terry fans. The plodding bassline and duetted vocals offer a slice of Terry’s kookiness but it doesn’t have that upbeat slap. The gorgeous strings share the wooziness of the Raincoats.
Guitars are introduced on the folky, breezy “Rokeby”. A short, soft and playfully worded ditty.
This softness is immediately contrasted by the fizzy synth warble that opens the brilliant “Lady Painter”. It’s a sun warped combination of all the elements we’ve heard so far, it also features the title phrase. Coming full circle and closing on that harsh synth noise, it readies our ears for the electronics of the minimal “Piles”. The almost piercing high pitched keyboard twinkle that accompanies the vocals makes way for light instrumental breaks of twelve string guitar strum and distant saxophones. This gives it a kind of Young Marble Giants minimalist quality.
Hill and Montfort have clearly considered the dynamic quality of the album as a whole.
The way they time the introduction of new elements is smart.
The impact of even a simple electronic drum beat on “Shoot Through” is surprising. The delightful less is more bass hook that runs throughout also sets up a platform for some glorious little synth and string flourishes and the fantastic saxophone atmospherics that build towards the end.
The folky strum of “Lock Up The Loose” has a Moldy Peaches quality to it. It’s kind of Sleeper and Snakes “Anyone Else But You” but with a jaunty fuzzy guitar hook. As we have come to expect now, this all melts down into a wandering icy synth and accordion outro.
The saxophones solely take centre stage on the instrumental “New Tags”, which slowly builds to a free frenzy. It sounds glorious.
This is followed up by perhaps the wackiest track on ‘Fresco Shed’, “Reach Out”. The synths are wonky and quite hilarious, whilst at the same time melodically brilliant. They add a zaniness to the strummed guitar chords and pump organ that add a Daniel Johnston quality. It’s an oddball delight and, for us, the highlight of the album.
Sleeper & Snake round off their debut album with one final instrumental.
“Declare” indulges in staccato guitar phrases, drawn out saxophone blasts and subtle swirling synths that create some magical textures.
All in all, ‘Fresco Shed’ is an extremely accomplished debut album. It’s an exercise in stunning subtlety, melodic purity, nonsensical word soup, and a textural masterclass. This all makes for one of the most original and refreshing records you will hear all year.
But then what else would you expect? It seems that everything a member of Terry touches turns to gold.
You may enjoy this if you like: The Vaselines, Primo, Terry, The Moldy Peaches, Young Marble Giants
Fresco shed is released on 23rd October via Upset The Rhythm. Pre-order here.