Don’t hold me responsible to this, but I might be feeling a little feverish today – my head has a slight but definite tendency to spin to the left, after what seems like almost a week of constant dry coughing – hence making this the perfect time to write about Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, a band which is more an organism than a band, making music which is half math, half manifesto and half madness. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum members have been very prolific and active in the avangarde rock scene, participating in numerous projects, including but not limited to Idiot Flesh, Faun Fables and The Books of Knots (these are the ones I’ve heard, but there are many more associated acts I haven’t gotten round to acquainting myself with), but this particular coagulation of their creative energies was the first to capture my attention and has not let it go ever since.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum have a very wide and colorful range of influences or rather building blocks they play with, ranging from King Crimson to Univers Zero, although I feel more comfortable tracing their roots to entire movements, like the prog-rock explosion of the early seventies and the Rock In Opposition current, or math-rock as a whole, rather than just representatives. This band functions best when thought of in terms of aesthetic vision, not in terms of influence and lineage, because they present such a unique and coherent way of musical thinking that picking out “influences” seems short-sighted and simply inefficient. The music demands as much creativity of perception as it proposes, it embodies that eternal attitude of the mythical trickster, challenging every taboo with one hand, an nurturing comprehension with the other.
I could never really tell where Sleepytime Gorilla Museum address to my intelligence and when they assault/assist/afflict my emotional side – it seems to me they provide one of the best examples of music which treads the line between these two hemispheres of perception. I’m tempted to engage in the type of exercise Animals as Leaders or Sikth lure me into, namely trying to follow the numbers, count the rhythms out, find comfort in the face of musical aggression through a sort-of automatic and subtly-induced obsessive-compulsive need to assign numbers to the slices of song. On the other hand, such an exercise would be futile, partly because there’s no hint in SGM’s music that they have any sort of interest in proficiency or virtuosity, and partly because, when attempted, it simply doesn’t work, it doesn’t bring any wonder or surprise to the listening process. Their music can’t be tamed that way. All that remains is a feeling of nakedness and delirium in the presence of such coherent inconsistency, of this paradoxical parading of sounds evoking amusement, absurdity, analysis and annihilation. How do you react in the face of the quintessential trickster, speaking volumes and deconstructing his very speech as he spouts it forth? A reasonable position will be eroded, an emotional perspective will be overwhelmed, an absurdist viewpoint will be challenged, over and over, unrelentingly – more than any other music I’ve ever heard, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s offerings defy classification and that is precisely what draws me to them.
The very name of the band is part of the enigma – apparently it is derived from the name of a small group of Dadaists and Futurists, titled Sleepytime Gorilla Press, which curated and owned a so-called “museum of the future”, which was “anti-artifact, non-historical and closed”. The grand opening exhibit consisted of a fire, which caused much confusion and chaos, and led to the grand closing, the very next day – hence the name of the band’s debut album. It might be my slight, temporary disorientation, but even thinking about that makes me feel like the ground is being pulled from under me. Or it might be that I’m easily impressed by the antics of the early-twentieth century artists. But even if that’s the case, the fact that a band beginning their activity together at the turn of the millennium could capture the same attitude and whimsical absurdity which was the hallmark of the Dada movement, almost a century later, leaves me thoroughly impressed, especially as they pull it off in musical form! Say what you will about the avant-garde, but music they did not get, at least not at the time. None of them could even begin to approach the level of complexity and power of statement Sleepytime Gorilla Museum make for the Dada movement. I guess it had to take that long, didn’t it?
Approach with caution. Do not fiddle with the exhibits. Don’t overstay your welcome and keep in mind that it has been known for visitors to enter and never really, fully, leave. Enjoy! See you soon.
P.S. – Sleepytime Gorilla Museum performed three final shows in the month of April 2011. There will be a final album release from them sometime in the future, a fourth album, but the band have officially performed their last live shows. I’ve found one of these shows on YouTube, in 3D no less! So even though this post is about their debut album, I’ll paste it over here, for your enjoyment.