One of my favorite parts of discovering new bands is the feeling of revelation and exclusivity that comes from googling them only to find a dearth of information. When you listen to an album that is really good, particularly when you discover it through Spotify, you expect to find a review from a journal you’ve heard of or, you know, their website. Virginia’s Sleepwalkers got none of that. Yes, the recent trend of having an ungooglable band name has been making it that much harder over the years (see: Beach House, Girls, Women, Titus Andronicus, Yuck, Liars, Tanlines, Yacht, etc.), but this is almost silly. A Facebook page, a Bandcamp, one review, and then unrelated stuff. Could it really be just me? Could I really be that special?
Then there is the flip side to this feeling. I don’t know if there is a name for masterpieces that completely got missed, but I’m going to start calling it a Van Gogh. Guys, we totally Van Gogh’d Greenwood Shade. Sleepwalkers released their debut in the summer of 2014, but it somehow totally flew under the radar of every major music reviewer in the US. What’s the matter, Pitchfork, was this too genuinely enjoyable for you? Too many memorable hooks, upbeat hits, and genre-fusing bouts of genius, SPIN? So what, it’s on me and every hipsterette Tumblr now?
The final injustice? They are somehow not signed to anybody.
Whenever someone, articulate or not, wants to describe an awesome album, they say “I didn’t skip a single song,” and that’s a promise I can give you about Greenwood Shade. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a Blonde-On-Blonde level, Jesus-Christ-every-single-song-is-a-barn-burner masterpiece, but unless you’re just in a mood to listen to “Cocaine” over and over (and that will come), you will start at “Cheers,” end at “Really Wish I Could,” and after three of four times hitting play again you will quickly open your Spotify app, touch album repeat, and go back to your day.
Their first listed influence on their Facebook page is Emitt Rhodes, the “One-Man Beatles” of the early ’70s who was inexplicably ignored despite basically recording a way better Let It Be in his parents’ garage. It’s actually pretty appropriate given how little attention Greenwood Shade got. The album is basically Before Today produced by Emitt Rhodes: considerably less alienating but still feels very much like being aimlessly day drunk or maybe even a little fucked up on a hot day.
In fact, the Ariel Pink comparison completely fails to catch the country twang underlying so much of the album, to the Motown vibe that is especially present on “Off On the Weekend” and “Cocaine,” to the Peter Gabriel seance “Images.” Greenwood Shade is not a White Album hodgepodge, or an out-of-control influence-tribute album. As I’ve said before, great artists steal rather than imitate, but that should not be confused with ripping off or straight plagiarizing. These are great musicians showing us, “Yeah, we can do that.” My only concern now is that, after two years of having the world turn its back on their obvious greatness, they give up showing us what else they can do.
If that is the case, then there is a small bit of rations on which to satiate our need for more Sleepwalkers. They have a sweet Christmas EP, Merry Christmas, that pairs very nicely with My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, which is helpful since together they make a full album. Sorry that it’s only early spring, and that their Bandcamp-only pop single “Frankenstein” is all they have to offer to help you thaw out other than Greenwood Shade.
Sleepwalkers will be doing a smallish North American tour supporting the Lumineers in late spring, though you may have to visit flyover country to see them. You can learn more about it on the band’s Facebook page.