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:Music Review: Cygnets – Sleepwalkers

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Cygnets – Sleepwalkers
Release Date: November 15, 2014
Label: Negative Gain Productions
Websites: OfficialBandcampFacebookTwitterYouTube

Review by Erin Durbin-Sherer

cygnets sleepwalkersIf you need new synthpop, if you crave new wave, look no further than Sleepwalkers, the third album from Canadian cadre Cygnets. By this point the term new wave has become a complete misnomer: it’s a bit of a stretch for me to call a genre new when my parents were listening to it at my age. Far be it from me though, to shun a quality tune just because my mom would like it. Besides, the deep melancholy that saturates every aspect of this album gives it a flavor that is distinctly dark wave.

One of the things I like best about the extra-mega-post-post-modern-with-sprinkles musical era in which we live is the shifting mosaic of recombinant style-sampling. The upshot is a complex genealogy of genres which keeps generating sounds that feel new and exciting, but are somehow familiar at the same time. The earnest, electric, broken and bereft feel of Sleepwalkers stokes, and also somehow satisfies, that old impulse to don a tattered Robert Smith t-shirt and some New Rock boots.

The sound profile is crafted with the kinds of old-school synths and echoing vocal distortions that would satisfy even the most fastidious of purists, without coming off as derivative. Singer Logan Turner’s vocals channel the elegant torment of vintage Morrissey while shaping lyrics written with an aggressive rawness that is sometimes base and confrontational. Coupled with the smooth synths of Dan Snow and tempered with Chris Bruce’s bass and guitar licks to keep it rock ’n’ roll, the whole blends into a beautiful, tragic dream; its existential agony suspended in a shimmering soap bubble.

If you’re not lucky enough to have caught them firsthand in the Edmonton live scene, head over to their website and listen to their stuff. Smart and experimental, these guys are real musician’s musicians, turning out quality tracks that juxtapose the awful pain of living with the joy of hearing it made melodically manifest. From their clever lyrics and the master craftsmanship that go into making the music to their popular live shows and music video projects, Cygnets is a band with a plan…and a prolific frontman.

The eponymous first track describes the futility and emptiness of what seems to be a one-night stand. Whether the motivations the narrator’s attributing to his single-serving lover are actually autobiographical admonishments is unclear, but the lyrics are at once vulnerable, self-aware, and wry. “I know you have a boyfriend/And I fucking hate your boyfriend/Though I guess I haven’t met him yet.” Locked in a destructive dance, the lovers come together briefly, anonymously, using each other as tools of their own self-flagellation. There’s no romance, just the crass and clandestine satisfaction of dark appetites in dark rooms.

“The Arbour Green” begins almost subsonically, making you really work to hear the rhythmic clacking of what sounds at first like booted marching, then becomes a train chugging along a track. Faint lasers dance at the edge of perceptibility as the locomotive rhythm drives the song inexorably on toward conclusion. The music is loud and big and everywhere, the staccato delivery and increasing desperation of the chorus transform this into a marching anthem that could fill town squares during the revolution.

The bleak refrain in “Lilya Forever,” “All things turn to dust/And they turn to dust/And they turn to dust” evokes the same themes of brutality and futility as Moodysson’s 2002 film of the same name, Lilja 4-Ever. As the last song on the album, it leaves you with the crippling sense that all the suffering is merely a waste: “These years like a coma while we wait/Waiting for no one, no one’s saved.” But in that surrender to the inevitability of anguish, there is a message of hope and freedom. If there is no salvation in the end, at least we can extract every ounce of beauty from this vale of tears while we’re here.

And yet, they are not without a sense of humor. The video for the fifth track, “Indoctrinate Me,” features the members of the band taking turns as the third wheel on a couch with various couples enthusiastically necking beside them. They sit awkwardly looking at the camera, studiously avoiding any engagement with the situations going on around them. They are passion-adjacent, superfluous, and their silent conversation with us through the fourth wall is completely tongue-in-cheek.

No silent suffering for Cygnets, no hiding the angst behind a stoic facade. They draw the despair out into the light to luxuriate in it and gild it, to wear it like a sad, lovely coat-elevating universal human struggle into a decadent baroque nightmare. It’s miserable and it’s voluptuous, and there’s wretchedness available on every scale. Petty personal foibles give way to a profound social horror that is the musical equivalent of reading a dystopian novel.

The instrumentation bears this out, with the sterile, metronomic perfection of synth percussion acting as a framework upon which to drape the messier, more human strings and vocals. Man and machine, institution and individual in unceasing conflict and codependent synergy. We may just be cogs in the apparatus, but oh, how beautifully we dance together. Cygnets’ Sleepwalkers has definitely made it into my permanent collection, and after I learned there was a track called “Viddy Well” on their earlier album Bleak Anthems, the literary nerd inside me we wouldn’t rest until I’d acquired that one as well. They’ll let you listen for free on their website, but spend the money so they can keep making exquisite songs to subside by.

Track Listing

  1. Sleepwalkers
  2. Life is Suicide
  3. The Arbour Green
  4. Day Seven
  5. Indoctrinate Me
  6. Data Ghosts
  7. Born In Vain
  8. Through Hell To Where?
  9. Drøm 4
  10. Lilya Forever

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