Thursday, September 29, 2011
To Remind and To Remember
*Preface: My apologies for missing last week. The concert season has started for me, requiring the occasional Thursday evening rehearsal. This makes for unusual/impossible office hours.*
I have three really fantastic roommates here in Believeland. Two of them just got married this summer and moved into our humble abode. Let's talk about crazy: Newlywed couple + 2 single post-grad school girls = recipe for disaster and epic b-list sitcom. Add some Jesus to that, and specify the people involved and you have a recipe for hilarity and grace. It is so wonderful to live here. The other swf in my house does not always share my taste in music, but J & A frequently do. Today's post is dedicated to them because they love this week's band, and although I had been aware of Sleeping At Last for several years (since junior year of college or so?), they've gone relatively unnoticed, unlistened to and unappreciated. As prone as I am to a lifestyle of hermitage and solitude (as an awkward, but important conversation with a formerly-good-friend has just addressed), it turns out that Life was meant to be lived with people and is always better (though also more difficult) with them in it. We can't all be aware of everything all the time. Sometimes we need each other to point out things that are good or beautiful in the every day. Sometimes we need to be the ones to point them out.
Sleeping At Last is actually just one man named Ryan O'Neal. The intimacy and oftentimes spacious arrangements in the music betrays the one-manness (I think I just made up that word) of the band, but I was still surprised to learn that the powerful song-writing and poetic lyrics come from just one head. Sleeping At Last hasn't always been just one man; it started as a full-sized garage band out of the greater Chicagoland area and has organically transitioned into O'Neal's solo project. You can more of the story here.
Sleeping At Last's most ambitious project to date, the "Yearbook" EP Project has just this month come to a close. O'Neal challenged himself to continuously write music for an entire year - enough to produce three new songs every month. And he was serious enough about his challenge to put his money where his mouth was - inviting listeners to subscribe to the Project and promising to deliver three complete new tunes at the dawn of each new calendar month. Though Sleeping At Last has become a solo project, O'Neal did not endeavor to complete the project all on his own - he had frequent guest collaborators from Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot - who just released their newest album this week - and Fiction Family) to Katie Herzig (who also just released a new album) to Paul Von Mertens (Wilco). Delivering even more than his promise, O'Neal collaborated with visual artist Geoff Benzing to pair gorgeous paintings as cover art for each EP. The whole project is a labor of beauty: beautiful sounds and beautiful visuals. It would be similar to me deciding to learn and record all the Barrett Grand Etudes (*Nerd alert*) while in conservatory and then ask one of my colleagues in the school of visual art or art & design to paint accompanying scenes, or one of my ballet friends to choreograph an accompanying dance in the style of each etude, or a poet friend write some lyrics for them. It was this kind of collaboration of the arts that has always intrigued me about art school and the idea of arts colonies and artist fellowships. I also think it's this kind of collaboration that, when invested in, will keep the arts alive in our culture. The arts I think will always have a way of being relevant and surviving, but I think, especially in an arts-hostile culture like the 'States. But here's the difference between Sleeping At Last's "Yearbook" project and my Barrett etude senior thesis: People want to hear his. It is high quality and aurally palatable.
O'Neal's music is piano driven with soaring vocals whose tonal quality is simultaneously deep and floaty. It is a little bit of an acquired taste - in a way not dissimilar to Radiohead. His voice is sometimes reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright in the lilting lines and chosen harmonies. The lyrics are poetic and the orchestrations are oftentimes quirky and sometimes cinematic. I liken Sleeping At Last to a forward moving, hopeful version of The Album Leaf. This is beautiful music for: rainy nights when your heart is content to beat to the rhythm of the raindrops, autumn afternoons or snowy mornings - apparently times involving something falling from the sky. Sleeping At Last might just fall into that category of elusive music that you listen to when you need to be reminded that sometimes Life really is just beautiful, even if difficult.
I chose this video because this is the song to which A, one of my roommates, walked down the aisle. It's beautiful, just like her.
If you want to check out a couple other songs I like, look for "All This to Say" and "Unmade" specifically.