Sleep Cycle worth the wait
The story behind Sleep Cycle, the gorgeously introspective new album by part-time Animal Collective member Josh Dibb, better known as Deakin, is a long, frustrating but ultimately uplifting one. It began in 2009 when Deakin temporarily left Animal Collective before the release of their landmark Merriweather Post Pavilion; wanting to pursue a solo career, Deakin set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund a trip to Mali for a music festival, promising a solo record as a reward.
He raised $26,000 and performed at the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu, but in 2012, fans were a little more than disappointed when Deakin’s album had not surfaced. In an interview with Pitchfork, Deakin explained that he used none of the $26,000 either for his travel expenses or for recording the album, rather donating the money to TEMEDT, a Malian organization dedicated to helping enslaved Tuareg people. What of the album, though?
“I wouldn’t call it ‘writer’s block.’ A lot of the stuff is done. It’s more like fatal perfectionism,” he claimed.
Four years, one Animal Collective album and two custom-designed “vegan-friendly” shoes later, Deakin announced in January of this year that his album was finished, and on April 6, he suddenly dropped the first single and the whole album a few hours later on Bandcamp. Of course, then, the question must be asked: is Sleep Cycle worth the seven-year wait?
Despite having only six tracks with a runtime of 33 minutes, the answer is a resounding yes. Sleep Cycle recalls the naked innocence and youthful spirit of Animal Collective’s mid-2000s classics “Sung Tongs” and “Feels,” as the tender yearning and purity that inhabited and immortalized those records is found in abundance here, too, and appeals to our most intrinsic, almost animalistic passions. The music is beautiful and evocative, having a breathless sort of quality that you can feel as your chest swells with longing for a feeling so ineffable that all I can do is feel it and hope you can, as well. Sleep Cycle is a journey driven by hope, love and soul-searching free of any ego; suddenly, Deakin’s controversial Kickstarter campaign snaps into context as we get a glimpse of his own reflections through the album.
If this all sounds like Deakin’s got his head in the clouds (and if you think I also do, fair enough), it’s because he does. Right from the get-go, Deakin venerates nature as a miraculous life force: on the plaintive yet stunning opener, “Golden Chords,” he ponders, “Days fog/ Can’t see past the fog of what’s gone, but I’m hoping I’ll try/ And the rain shines/ And the showers and the fawns in the field arrange in my eyes/ So why fight?/ With nature’s call around… You tell me what’s wrong/ But what’s right?/ You’re seeing creation/ That crushing, never-ending change is so full of love.” The acoustic arrangement of “Golden Chords” is generous and lucid in its restraint, shimmering with a naïve sense of playfulness and purity that only highlights its abstruse natural philosophy.
All of this segues into “Just Am,” a brilliant eight-minute psych-folk romp. The explosive synths contrast heavily with the placidity of “Golden Chords” in a way that perfectly complements the shift in tone. Here, Deakin wrestles with the anger that comes from anxiety and confusion.
In addition to the nature motif, Deakin frequently explores the concept of creating a home for yourself, a sanctuary away from the hate and negativity he finds swirling around him, even the enmity that he regrettably spreads himself. In one of his most self-critical moments, Deakin laments, “I hope that you can feel life/ ‘Cause even watching descent, I see light/ But I recall I called you hate/ Repeated words get locked and phased/ And these words attach/ Some words like stone/ You find with time you build more than sow/ You build a house/ You build what you know/ I wonder if that’s home.”
Ultimately, what Deakin seeks on Sleep Cycle is forgiveness and spiritual cleansing. He believes he can change and be the best version of himself but only through taking the initiative himself (“Your fears won’t fail, and new ones will show/ Only steps you take will help you to grow/ And when I hope, I hope I’m home/ I’ll step inside, and I’ll feel grown”). Deakin speaks of a morality based on pureness of intent—that those with hearts of gold will make it in the end. As he puts so beautifully on the divinely inspired closer “Good House,” “Breathe in without/ Breathe in/ You’re alright/ Breathe in with all/ Spit out all that rage/ You’re safe now, don’t fight/ Your body’s engaged/ Just flow and get right/ Like following angels/ You’re following angels.”
If only we were all such kindred spirits.