Sleepy's Theme

Vinyl Room

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This particular vinyl room must be filled with every imaginable urban soul 45 and LP that was released between 1968 and 1977, because that is exactly the atmosphere created by this debut album from Sleepy's Theme, part of Organized Noize's Atlanta cadre. Right from the get-go of The Vinyl Room, the vision of huge floppy hats, bell bottoms, and fur coats; Afros; old Lincolns and Cadillacs; and hustlers and players is irrevocably evoked, albeit through a hazy late-'90s light. Sleepy's Theme is not at all interested in kowtowing to '90s soul and R&B etiquette or following the conventions of those formulas. Their rule book was instead written by the Impressions, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Donny Hathaway, the O'Jays, and any number of more obscure, delectable funky soul treats from the '70s. There are no sterilized beats or vocal histrionics within earshot of The Vinyl Room. As funky as their chops are, the band never seems to be going exactly retro or copying their influences (emulating, perhaps). If anything, Organized Noize's production sounds even more '70s-ish than did the soul music that emanated from that period, which theoretically could turn the music more into a parody than homage. And yet by marrying their trademark production touches -- beautifully dreamy, lazy melodies, ingratiating synthesizer textures, stately bits of orchestration and brass, crisp drumming, and wayward drum machine beats -- with the sonic touchstones of that era, and filtering it through the organic instrumentation from Sleepy's Theme, Organized Noize arrives at a sound that, while it eschews trends, is nevertheless wholly contemporary and grounded in the sampladelic spirit of hip-hop. It is what made their sound one of the most acclaimed and recognizable of the '90s. Within that context, though, every song lopes along at a weed-stoned pace, with Curtis Mayfield-like falsetto leads, noir-ish spoken word raps, and testifying, honey-coated female background vocals that coil around the music like vines. And the music is so mackadociously somnolent and sweet -- full of creamy bass grooves, paper-soft cymbal pats, raindrop-drowsy keyboards, and sly, country-fried guitar runs, with bad-mother (shut your mouth!) wah-wah licks all over the place -- that you feel magically transported to an episode of Starsky and Hutch or Mod Squad and half expect to pan down and find yourself decked out in a silk shirt and scarf, polyester flares, Italian loafers, and a feathered hat. That, of course, is a high compliment. Only someone irredeemably jaded could dismiss flawlessly mood-driven songs such as "Choked Out Saturday Night," "Still Smokin'," "Private Party," and "Menage a Trois" -- the titles of which impart all the information that a listener really needs to know -- without at least a bit of guilty pleasure.

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