In 2007, Sleepsound—then a guitar-and-piano quartet from Durham—released Leaves Change, a six-song EP that thrived mostly on implication and promise: Sounding a bit like the substitute frontman for anthem rockers Coldplay and The Fray, Geoff Register sang his longing songs over orthodox piano melodies and guitar lines that echoed and spun through sheets, much like those of obvious influences U2. But Register's direct, sometimes maudlin words simply needed more at their back—bigger arrangements? heavier production? layered vocals?—to transcend background music, to cast them to the stars. Register sounded like a preacher with more convictions than choir members.
Despite Sleepsound's recent devolution into a trio, Register finds the support his capable voice has long needed on Breathe, the band's occasionally electrifying debut LP. Recorded at Chapel Hill's Warrior Sound by Mitchell Marlow and Al Jacob, Breathe swells with all manner of sonics—sonorous strings, sharp guitar leads, stop-and-start rhythms—beneath Register's air, smartly multi-tracked here to strengthen both the songs' magnetism and the album's romantic charge.
The production risks are high, amping the anthem rock on The Flaming Lips ("Two Skies") and Sigur Rós ("If We Can"). Behind Register's ambitious pop gestures, they mostly work by adding character and diversion: Mandolins and acoustic guitars introduce "Oh! To Do," both quickly locking behind a heavy rock beat and strings that flirt with dissonance while weaving through choral chimes and clinking castanets. "The Lead," taking top honors here as both the album's best and most compositionally adventurous tune, teases the vocals with the instruments, a thick bassline and delayed guitar echoing Register's lyrical movements. "Companion," which reins the energy in after a frenetic five-song opening spree, decorates Register's lament for piano and vocals with a cathedral of ambiance, musical ghosts in the machine whirring quietly through the mix. Those elements offer intrigue, leading us back to the songs—sometimes pedantic and obvious, but always written with the sure aims of a songwriter with a knack for a hook—by dancing around them.
Sleepsound releases Breathe at The Cave Friday, Jan. 30, at 10 p.m. Transmission Fields and Tripp open.