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Indie album captures universe through music

Sleeping at Last

By David Girbino, Mayfield High School

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Sleeping At Last’s newest album, Atlas: Year One, lives up to its name, mapping new territory in music.

Atlas delivers a vast arrangement of sounds, including haunting vocals by Ryan O’Neal, and an eclectic arrangement of instruments. This orchestral album uses an incredible number of musical styles to create a bold, eloquent, 30-song album worthy of the title.

Although strings and choirs provide the musical backbone for the album, Atlas features a number of other instruments: harpsichord, xylophone, guitar, and various winds and percussion. With a combination of pulsing rhythm and intricate composition, Atlas will more than satisfy those with a taste for instrumental music and the quiet, lyrical poetry of other indie groups.

Atlas has a unique structure: there are five groups of songs indicating different elements of the universe – “Light,” “Darkness,” “Land,” “Oceans,” and “Space.” Each is composed of a number of songs named after parts of their element.

How rare and beautiful it is / to even exist.”

— Sleeping at Last, 'Saturn'

“Space” is arguably the most beautiful and eclectic set of music here. The arrangement of songs based on the features of planets parallels Gustav Holst’s Planets, a collection of pieces that instrumentally represent the characteristics of each planet. For instance, Holst uses blaring trumpet sforzandos in his iconic piece “Jupiter,” coupled with a strong base of strings and vibrant woodwind arpeggios to create a piece that is as dynamic as the planet itself.

O’Neal uses a more subtle approach. His “Jupiter” begins in a spacey pianissimo, building through gradual crescendo via the introduction of new layers of sound, from piano to strings, into guitar and vocals.

 O’Neal’s poetic lyrics tell stories that resonate with the fundamental nature of loss and life: “How rare and beautiful it is / to even exist.” One of the most powerful features of Atlas is its ability to elicit an emotional response from its listeners. Of the song “Saturn,” Senior Carolyn Ford said, “It’s…calming, and kind of sad. The words are really pretty.”

Atlas is so well-crafted that the only obvious complaint is the album’s length. At over two hours long, Atlas is difficult to listen to in one sitting; the full effect of the music comes in pieces. However, the album is, in reality, a collection of smaller EPs, and so its length was only a consequence of compiling the numerous EPs into one album.

Overall, Atlas is an elegant and vibrant collection of songs. The combination of lyrical poetry and vividly layered instrumentation will not disappoint even the most refined musical connoisseurs.

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