The past decade has seen a slew of younger musicians re-appropriate and re-imagine folk paradigms, crafting tracks for people less interested in earnest emoting than the (endless) possibilities of cross-genre pollination. The brainchild of London's spectacularly named Markland Starkie, Sleeping States' debut LP is packed with gentle, lapping compositions (most comprised of electric guitar and sugary vocals, exclusively) that tend to come off nauseatingly bucolic on paper. But Starkie's lilting electric folksongs are just as indebted to Metal Machine Music as they are the Carter Family, and There the Open Spaces is peppered with just enough sour notes, off-tuned guitars, and atonal skronks to keep listeners fully agitated and engaged.
Plenty have speculated that There the Open Spaces is very much a record about shacking up in London, and, accordingly, focuses on the claustrophobia, disassociation, and loneliness inherent to urban living. It seems plausible: Musically, Starkie favors spare, ghostly sounds, and his electric guitar work feels sticky, soft, and unsettling, like stepping face-first into a spider web. Lyrically, Starkie doesn't make definitive claims either way, but the record's cool, slightly unhinged atmospherics will make perfect, eerie sense to anyone who's ever felt trapped by skyscrapers, concrete, and hoards of human beings.
Opener "Rain Check" - a fey, a capella ditty with doubled (and tripled and quadrupled) vocals and limited lyrics ("When I'm getting ready/ In spite of the rain/ You sometimes ring me up and say/ Another time") - is pleasant enough, but ultimately feels like a bit of a false start. "Rivers" is a far more suitable introduction to Sleeping States' particular sound, with its flurry of nonsensical blipping and rolling guitar. "I Wonder" is one of the record's most addictive (and straightforward) cuts, a spinning mess of guitar and smooth vocals. The record finishes with "Life vs. Love", a grim, droning lament accented by the slightest hint of found sound.
From the confessional poets through Joan Baez, the notion of the singer-songwriter as a self-indulgent whiner has endured, and plenty-- like Starkie-- are making huge strides to reinvent the idea of the bedroom poet with a guitar: There the Open Spaces is an impressive start.
1. Rain Check
3. Planning My Escape
4. The Sleeping States, or Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat?
5. Come Closer to Me Now
6. Contact Lunacy
7. September, Maybe
8. I Wonder
9. The Next Step
10. The Times I Have Fallen for You
11. Memory Games
12. Life vs. Love
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CD: Jewel case with full lyric booklet