Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Comsat Angels - Sleep No More

Sleep No More (1981) ***

This is the densest and most impenetrable album I've ever heard.  I say that without exagerration:  the keyword here is oppressive, as according to fact (not legend) they obtained the booming drum sound by recording the drums in an elevator shaft and miking the six floors adjacent the drum kit.  The effect is almost literally crushing:  the sound waves across as thick as a fog of quicksand pea soup, enveloping the ears from all corridors from which there is no escape.  Talk about wall of sound:  this is as heavy as Black Sabbath's osmium, though in a totally different genre and vein.  Drums and impossibly deep-throated bass lines are the weapons in the Comsat's arsenal, doomily building layer upon layer of deeply oppressive atmosphere that chokes the listener into bewildered submission.  If you're morbidly claustrophobic, avoid this album at all costs (me, my primal fear is of heights).  And in contrast to classic metal, the Comsat's post-punk aim is an atmosphere of morbid, gloomy sadness and alienation, rather than morbid aggression.

As such, this album is a highly influential, five-star landmark of '80s post-punk goth-gloom; the Cure were obviously listening closely, as they ripped off the basic sound for Pornography the subsequent year.  However, on after try after try after try (lost count - more than seven, less than a dozen listens) I've given up trying to make my way out of this labyrinth of sound:  it's easy to get lost in these thickets, but once you've emerged for breath, the only impression taken away is of the overall sound.  These songs lack anything so mundane as hooks and choruses:  as so often sadly is the case for albums with a startingly unique and original sound, the band coasts far, far too much upon that sheer sound, and forgets to write memorable songs to accompany the atmospherics (and it goes without saying, not bothering with any song-by-song analysis I am - the sheer uniformity of sound is bludgeoning).  The songs are bottom-heavily rhythmic and for the most part as oppressively slow as they are oppressively heavy, with meekly detached, declaimed vocals and shards of ghostly synth-lines floating above the rhythmic bed for color and melody (what little there is of that).  Naturally a commercial flop, with no singles even attempted to be pulled from this morass - in an unusually perceptive move, both the band and the record company realized that no way in hell did any song on this platter remotely possess any commercial potential, so they didn't even bother.  Some singles were released concurrently with this album, however, and have accompanied the album proper as bonus tracks on reissues.  They're considerably more immediately involving than the album tracks (hell, anything would be) - some could even be called catchy.  "Eye of the Lens," stands out:  imagine the album's gloomily oppressive atmospherics applied to the dynamics of an actual song, and you have a masterpiece:  the CD reissues' highwater mark, and possibly the career of the Comsat Angels as a whole.



  1. It's nice that you've taken the time to promote the Comsat Angel's album Sleep No More with an in-depth blog, so I commend you for that. But I don't agree with a lot of what you have to say. While some of the tracks are heavy, I wouldn't say they lack musical hooks. And not memorable? Eye Dance, Be Brave, Gone, Our Secret and At Sea (from the 2006 reissue) are quite memorable in my opinion. I suppose it was sad that at this stage of their career the Comsat Angels didn't release an album with a commercially successful single. But if the trade-off was that we got a genius album like Sleep No More, I'd rather have it this way.

  2. Well, we're gonna hafta agree to disagree on this one. 'The Eye Dance' and 'Be Brave' definitely have that bleak sound you're describing here, but hooks to infinity. You really can't argue with the album's influence either. Everybody from the Cure (like you said) to Slowdive has borrowed from it. The huge drum sound, the slow riffs — hell, you could even argue that it was one of the first "post-rock" albums (but then you'd sound really douchey, using such a term). Appreciate the write-up, in any case. But, yeah man, this album is holy grail status.


  3. Though you're right in that it was something of a commercial flop (though in terms of chart position, it was the Comsat's highest entry in the UK), it wasn't helped by their label underestimating it's chances: the initial pressing sold out very quickly on the back of positive press, and they were too slow to get fresh copies into the shops, killing any progress it might have made.

    Such bad luck was all too frequent to the band, sad to say.