Jensen Sportag

Stealth of Days

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Though they released their debut album way back in 2006, the Nashville duo of Jensen Sportag (Austin Wilkinson and Elvis Craig) didn't release their second, Stealth of Days, until 2013. After starting off with a squiggly, danceable sound that called to mind Prince recorded in a phone booth, the duo have slowly taken all the bounce and snap out of their sound. Their clouded-over R&B takes late-night ballads and reduces them to the wobbly spaces in between the beats, the deep breaths taken before singing, and the lingering aftermath of keys pressed down, strings plucked, and drums hit. Even the songs that do have some kind of out-of-balance rhythmic punch, like the stuttering "Six Senses" or "Hidden, Hunted," drift through speaker cables and headphone cords like ghostly apparitions. (Or Scritti Politti songs played backwards through some very damp reverb.) Vocals drift in and out of focus, the synths appear and disappear like wisps of fog in a light breeze, and the softness of it all is welcoming and vaguely suffocating. As song after song of hazy quiet storm clouds roll by, it's easy to fall into an intoxicated trance that's only jostled into a dim awareness a few times by brightly strummed, very '80s-feeling guitars ("Light Through Lace"), finger-snapped basslines ("Under the Rose"), and the occasional vocal that cuts through the mist and almost delivers some naked emotion. Not that the songs aren't emotional, it's just that they wrap their feelings in so much gauzy wrapping that their melancholy ennui is easy to dismiss as just another element in the carefully constructed sound. It's more like a dream of feelings than the real thing, a dream the duo aren't at all interested in waking from. This kind of fractured, sleepwalking R&B is very much in vogue in 2013, almost a little too much so, but the duo manage to bring some idiosyncratic individuality to it that keeps the album from feeling stale. Plus, the songs hold up on their own as well as fitting together into a seamless puzzle of sound. They may have to change up their sound on future releases, but for now the Nashville duo totally nail this one, and Stealth of Days ends up being some first-class dreamland R&B.

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