With a Nico reference forming the album title, it's not an entire surprise that the first instrument one hears on Awake Like Sleep is harmonium, as played by Weeks' regular collaborator, Jesse Sparhawk. Weeks, who himself plays plenty of keyboards and other instruments throughout, favors warm and tender vocals instead of forbidding chill, to be sure. That's one of the many reasons why Awake Like Sleep is an involving listen, caught somewhere between the winter landscape pictured on the cover and a womb-like wash of sound that provides its own strange comfort. The album as a whole suggests the interesting scenario of wistful and weird British folk of the early '70s as caught somewhere in a slightly malfunctioning and starting-to-run-down computer. There aren't any sudden blasts of IDM-style drum breaks or anything, to be sure, but the various hosannas heaped on the head of Radiohead for their supposed embrace of prog rock styles on OK Computer actually would better belong here. There's a more overt playing around with that tradition in its most haunting and strange sense, the use of various styles of keyboards providing string and woodwind samples particularly telling, and combined with guest turns with real strings and flutes it makes for a lovely combination. It's rural without being drippily so -- there aren't any invocations of the hobbits here. While the emphasis throughout is on restrained delicacy, the addition of more full-bodied rock power here and there thanks to Adam Forkner's drums gives songs like "Past Four Corners" a welcome extra punch. Other fine points include "East 5th Street," with its high, keening tones, the wonderfully beautiful "I Will Fall to Meet Her," which manages to suggest Labradford circa Mi Media Naranja deciding to craft a gently accessible late-night ballad, and the almost-lullaby "Sleep Right."
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