There’s something to be said for ambition in the world of instrumental music. sleepmakeswaves know a thing or two about that - the Australian post-rock act have spent much of the past 14 years carving out their place in a genre known for bombast; in which musical and thematic richness are expressed with stormy crescendos and pointed melodic explosions, often enough that it’s become something that bands will deliberately sidestep in favour of less traditional structures. As we last heard on 2017’s Made of Breath Only, their particular stock-in-trade skews towards more progressive shades, and that album felt like the end of something and the start of something else.
Last time out, the trio of Alex Wilson (bass), Tim Adderley (drums) & Otto Wickes-Green (guitar) were coming into their own, completely confident in their abilities as individual musicians and as a band, careful not to revert to type three albums in. As comfortable on neo-prog bills with the likes of Voyager and Skyharbor as they are heavier bands like The Contortionist and Rolo Tomassi (the latter of whom support on their 2021 Australian run in what’s sure to be a fascinating mixed-bill tour), their sound is wide-ranging, and its full spectrum is provided for the listener to experience on these are not your dreams, the band’s fourth album and the start of their next chapter.
Opening with the 11-minute, multi-movement epic ‘the endings that we write’, the record’s flow is natural, patient and practiced, obscuring the fact it was initially conceived as three interconnected EPs - No Safe Place, Out of Hours & Not an Exit, released in instalments since March. Operating outside of the traditional album format - while simultaneously existing inside of it - afforded the trio more creative freedom; this 12-track collection takes the torch from its predecessor and pushes the sleepmakeswaves sound into new territory. ‘batavia’ is swept along by Adderley’s creative rhythms and a sense of forceful heaviness, while the album’s title track is a clear example of how tight the trio have become as a unit, full of tasteful electronic flourishes and subtle thrills, a nuanced finale packed to the brim with details.
There are surprises to be found around every corner; the wistful ambience of ‘mind palace’ and how deftly ‘pyramids’ balances riff-driven urgency and atmospheric passages, to name but two. A notable first for the band is the inclusion of vocals, in keeping with the more experimental nature of the record. Provided by Wickes-Green on songs that still operate within the band’s typical framework and appearing at crucial points in the album’s narrative, his additional contributions serve as a particular example of how the trio have altered and adapted their sound to fit different contexts over the years, incorporating something plenty of bands of their ilk would shy away from. Indeed, the likes of the cinematic sweep of ‘cascades’ and the post-hardcore-tinged rush of ‘zelda’ indicate that adding Wickes-Green’s vocals to the mix on a more permanent basis might be something for them to explore as part of their ongoing evolution.
They’ve never been afraid of change, and much of this album is the sound of a band rewriting the rulebook to suit themselves, each track different than the last. In a genre that prides itself on sonic maximalism, it’s refreshing to hear one of its leading lights push themselves like this. Throughout their near-70-minute new record, in amongst their eclecticism and insatiably curious creative spirit, their innate knack for melody and emotional catharsis remains very much intact. Rather than rest on their laurels, sleepmakeswaves are choosing to greet the new decade with enthusiasm and ingenuity. these are not your dreams requires the listener to check their expectations at the door, and its exploratory nature is a delight on the band’s most engaging and accomplished offering yet.