Review of Sleeping Pills [12k1054]

Tokafi (.COM)

It’s hard arguing with emotions. Even if claims that Sleeping Pills did not offer anything new to the crowded genre of Guitar Drones and Ambient Soundscaping were true, they could not wipe away its impact on romantic hearts. One could go as far as to suggest that exactly because there is a palpable sense of naivety running through these nine tracks, their intuitive immediacy has turned out even stronger. The album is entirely free from the chimeras of stardom: For years, Rene Margraff’s musical ambitions seemed to be restricted to his job at a music software company and his contributions to German Printmag “DE:BUG”. But while tangentially eclipsing the orbits of creativity, he always had an idea simmering in the back of his mind about a personal take on the abovementioned genres.

This vision involved a prominent role for melody, gradual development of thematic material through careful looping as well as a strict focus on only the most essential of elements – technically realised by narrowing down the equipment list to no more than a Guitar, some effect pedals, vintage audio cassettes and a few field recordings. As such, his approach noteably differs from the typical linearly-built, crescendo-driven loopospheres enjoying pervasive popularity on the scene. Rather, pieces on Sleeping Pills open up like flowers on a Summer morning, their petals slowly revealing the blossom hidden underneath their wings before releasing their sweet, melancholy perfume and seamlessly shifting colours in the light of a distant rainbow. There is no urgency to these compositions, which are always suddenly there and just as quickly disappear into the quietude they were born from after a maximum of five to six minutes.

Minimalism is the key to Margraff’s music. It is an aesthetic just as much inspired by the purity of allowing a single guitar chord to dreamily fade away before striking a new one as by the beauty of those precious bars of silence opening up between them and the compositional challenge of restricting oneself to nothing but a handful of motives per piece. In this scenario, each action takes on a collossal dramaturgical potential and the orchestrated absence of elements or structures can be just as effective as their presence: In one instance, everything suddenly seems to stand still, harmonies hanging in the air in a state of breathless suspense – but their softly insistent refusal to move on speaks more than a thousand words. On “Seven”, meanwhile, the music is nervous and itchy, building towards a climactic resolution which however never comes. Effectively, as similiar as they may appear on a first listen, all tracks present an entirely new mood, ranging from dark and depressed to warm and joyfully tranquil and setting the parameters of a distinct sound-world with nothing more than the flick of their wrist.

Mood isn’t everything here, however. Within this intense territory, the melodic potential of the album is gaining seminal importance. Unlike comparable productions, which are all too often content with simply immersing the listener in a particular ambiance, there is a strong song-character to the contributions on Sleeping Pills. In fact, the album often feels like the ghost of a folk song haunting the halls of an old monastery. You could, of course, associate a track like “Seventeen” with the recognisable sound of other artists from the 12k roster. But you could just as well think of a band like Portishead. Whether or not he’s adding something genuinely “new” to the genre of Guitar Drones and Ambient Soundscaping or not, Rene Margraff is certainly conjuring up some atypically inspiring connotations.

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