Album Review: Sleep In. adopt a more instinctive approach on 'The Stars on Your Ceiling'
On their third studio effort, the NJ-based emo quintet shed some of their complicated math rock arrangements for a more organic and rooted approach and it pays off
Keeping the new generation of emo well and alive on the East Coast, Sleep In. made a name for themselves with their interesting blend of traditional emo sound, math rock structures and indie-leaning guitars.
In 2014, Sleep In. introduced us to their strange yet affable sound through their debut 'Settling'. Three years later, they doubled-down on their math rock inflections with their sophomore record, 2017's 'Tension & Release'. Now, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based quintet is back with its third and latest full-length studio effort, 'The Stars on Your Ceiling'.
The album opener 'Deena' starts by sampling four rapt barks of a dog instead of a drummer's count-down and immediately erupts into a guitar-driven headbanger that's practically the culmination of Sleep In.'s career. It has a little bit of everything that the band is well-known for — the complicated math rock arrangements, the start-stop rhythm section, the barrage of drums, and Tom Fowler’s metalcore flecked vocals.
On '6th and Catherine', the band keeps the fast-paced tempo going with a funky, choppy riff while Fowler recollects intimate stories from the past and "drinking with friends at the dive on the 5th". The track is dancier than most of the band's numbers and is definitely a head bopper. Where discernible over the overdriven guitars, the lyrics reveal intimate, personal stories and that is true of most of the album.
On the cleverly titled 'Hard Right', Fowler takes the incident of a single punch thrown in (presumably) a street fight and stretches the imagery out for three full minutes. On the melodic ballad 'This Old House', he croons about "kitchen talks and bathroom jams," and "carpet stains from spilling cans."
“I wrote most of these songs about fairly specific points in my life, some more monumental than others," Fowler said of the songwriting in the album. "I think it’s important to remember the stories that you make throughout your life, especially ones you learn from.”
A definite album highlight is the short and crisp romantic number 'A Million Messages'. The song is the first sign of a different approach from the band in the album. The pop-tinged number just has two verses and a catchy sing-along chorus. There's even a small snippet of a classic Steve Wai-styled guitar solo, and it all wraps together quite neatly.
Placed smack in the middle of the album is the lead single and arguably the most memorable song from the album 'Splitting Clouds'. The guitars wail with melancholy as Fowler sings about anxiousness of leaving home and travelling afar. "This song is about taking time, traveling, & seeing other things than your normal everyday surroundings," Fowler explains. "More specifically a trip I took with my best friend about 10 years ago that really opened my eyes to what else is out there."
Although Sleep In. plays it relatively safe and doesn't stray too far from their comfort zone, there is a distinct change in the compositions and songwriting in the second half of the album. The tempo slows down and the guitars move from shredded riffs to deeper arpeggios. Fowler's vocals are not drowned out by the guitars and, in general, the indie rock side of the band is evident.
There is also a marked difference in the songwriting approach between their previous LP 'Tension & Release' and 'The Stars on Your Ceiling'. The carefully constructed math rock structures have given way to a more instinctive, rooted approach and that is clearly reflected in the lead guitars and rhythm section.
“We definitely feel this record is a big step forward for us in terms of songwriting,” guitarist Eric McNelis explains. “This record came together very organically and there wasn’t a lot of laboring over the songwriting and arrangements. We really let the music dictate the direction.”
In a year where emo as a genre has been pushing the boundaries to the fullest, 'The Stars on Your Ceiling' seems rather tame, even with all the "mathletics" in there. Bring Me The Horizon pretty much skewed the entire playing field for the genre this year with their genre-defying album 'Amo' and the bar is placed ridiculously high right now. But there's nothing wrong with sticking to your guns and amplifying your strengths without experimenting just for the sake of it and that's exactly what Sleep In. has done on their third studio effort.