Sleeping States

There the Open Spaces

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Markland Starkie, the Kaito veteran who is the one-man band behind Sleeping States, has already happily found outlets for a number of releases on low-key labels in the U.K. For his formal American debut There the Open Spaces he demonstrates his affinity for home-recorded songs that embrace an easygoing lo-fi aesthetic that seemed to have dissipated somewhere a decade previously. In truth, it never went away (as Ariel Pink fans could tell you) but endless amounts of forgettable tapes that added nothing to the style couldn't have helped it any; Starkie is nowhere near as irritating as so many pseudo-troubadours were, but his work does seem a touch over-praised, if not on his part. The heavily name-dropped "Rivers," for instance, is ultimately enjoyable rather than stunning, its best moment being a fierce guitar solo rather than the sweet enough groove and Starkie's contemplative but hardly revelatory singing and lyrics. If anything, the musician's reputation for being a really nice guy in general might be helping his work coast a bit more in some corners; no question he knows what he's doing, but songs like "Planning My Escape" and "The Times I Have Fallen for You" are almost aggressively pleasant, softly detuned guitars, a bit of murky bass reminiscent of New Zealand legends, odd harmonies and distant squalls. To his credit he does throw in the occasional surprise -- the suddenly clear, direct vocal on "The Sleeping States, or Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat?" almost serves as a wake-up call after a restful start, while the quick, gentle chug of "September, Maybe" is a beaut, an early New Order/Cure tribute song in all but name. But There the Open Spaces should be seen as more a promising step than a new masterpiece.

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