As an instrumental rock band, Athens, Ga.-based Japancakes has managed the improbable task of distinguishing itself among a host of similar artists (Air, Tortoise, American Analog Set), due to founder Eric Berg’s unique vision and John Neff’s meandering pedal steel.
The band begins by taking unrehearsed melodies into a studio for hours of repetitious playing. After several times through, songs begin to develop with subtle shifts in melody and tempo, giving the tunes their essence. The process may sound grueling, but the results are noteworthy.
Those who wait out the band’s propensity for lengthy songs will likely be lost in the soft, ambient womb created with guitar, bass, drums, cello, and keyboards. Once given time to develop and sink in, the light, airy drones the six musicians create begin to sparkle with a simple elegance.
“The Sleepy Strange” is a more organic affair than the group’s previous “Down the Elements” EP. The playful synths that made that collection’s “A.W. Sonic” so fun are turned down a notch in favor of Neff’s graceful playing, which lends the album a distinctly Southern sound. “Vinyl Fever,” the closing track and also the longest at over 12 minutes, captures that simple yet profound agreement every band hopes to find in collaboration, as if each member were letting us in on a deep, personal secret.
“The Sleepy Strange” won’t make your heart beat faster or pump you full of adrenaline, but if a weekend drive through the country is your idea of relaxation, sit back and enjoy the ride.U