Spine Hits is the third album from San Francisco psychedelic warriors Sleepy Sun, and their first following powerful co-vocalist Rachel Fannan's departure from the band. Fannan's absence is notable, but not to the degree where the band sounds like a completely different act altogether. They're still dealing in the same drony acid rock and textural guitar tone tapestries that defined their earlier material, owing much to the pioneers of '60s San Fran psychedelia. Singer Brett Constantino steps up to handle full vocal duties swimmingly, with a style that floats between hallucinatory echoes and a primal growl. The primary issue with Spine Hits isn't the band's loss of a charismatic member or a radical shift in the formula, it's that the record drifts and meanders til it becomes a dull, colorless blend. On their debut album, Embrace, Sleepy Sun tempered all-out stoner rock jams with carefully placed quieter numbers, pacing out their heaviness in a metered way that made the album much more digestible and interesting. That practice is intact here, but the songs don't work as well together. Awkward album opener "Stivey Pond" oozes out in crunchy strands of guitar and Constantino's raw, husky vocals, the song coming off like an odd Jane's Addiction B-side. The subtle influence of early-'90s indie psyche bands like the Verve, Slowdive, and even the most mantra-esque of the early Smashing Pumpkins recordings lends a sense of melody to the band's Sabbath-worshiping riffery. Even as Sleepy Sun regulate their noise, the dynamics feel flat. Interspersing softly trippy songs like "Siouxsie Blaqq" with effect pedal-saturated jam sessions like "Martyr's Mantra" still doesn't help either approach stand out. "Boat Trip" is the album's strongest moment, a gently treading meeting of spacy Fleet Foxes-style harmonies and buried aquatic melodies cribbed from post-SMiLE-era Brian Wilson mania. This unassuming track makes just enough space for the underwhelming muscle of guitar-centric "V.O.G." and "Deep War." The band camped out in the California desert and laid down these songs with producer Dave Catching, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal. Perhaps it's Catching's influence that gives Spine Hits its hard rock edge, or maybe the effects of sunstroke add to the bleached-out quality of the songs. Somewhere in between the guitar wizardry and contained micro freakouts, Spine Hits becomes increasingly difficult to pay attention to, and the number of memorable moments falls off, making the album as unfulfilling as a cheap contact high.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas