Allen Tate, of San Fermin, releases his debut solo album, Sleepwalker, on Friday, October 28, via Votiv Music. The latter, of course, an indie rock and baroque pop band led by composer, Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Apparently the two became friends as teenagers at a Berklee College of Music summer program.
Tate began composing Sleepwalker in the fall of 2014 during a three week stay in Copenhagen, where San Fermin had performed. Tate completed the writing over the following year while on the road with the band.
He then went into the studio with Ludwig-Leone and San Fermin bandmates Michael Hanf (drums) and Tyler McDiarmid (guitar) and recorded Sleepwalker during breaks in the San Fermin tour schedule.
What a way to start things as with opener, “Aliens”. It has ringing, bleak bass alone with frank, creepy vocals that certainly suit the song title. Suddenly the drums kick in, regimented, stabbing and intermittent. Guitar locks into this rhythm, syncopating with the drum as it breaks out of its military fashion. Then organ washes over the listener, its majesty like the array of lights gleaming upon a flying saucer. Guitar sees out the track.
Then “Being Alone” is moody. Rim shots on the drum lend it extra atmosphere. The eerie vibe continues in this one, until the instrumentation gets a little bit more emphatic. Cheery, even. Melancholy does largely pervade throughout it, though. The chorus like a carousel revolving you, the rider, around horrors encircling you everywhere you’re spun.
The mysteriously acronym titled “CPH” is largely bass driven with melodic arpeggios and sparse guitar. Synthesiser takes flight, reaching for the skies. Is this man’s attempt to reach alien life, having witnessed evidence of it in the first track? Maybe the ambiguous title of the track lends extra imagination upon which to ponder what it really means?
You see the blending of disparate elements in “Don’t Choke”. It’s a bit industrial in its ringing soundscape, though the drums sound organic enough. It does break free of these bleak constraints, triumphant horn declaring some sort of imperious victory. Crushing opposition, kind of thing. The backing vocal effect is quite shrill, like the sound of the trampled upon contact with big, black boots.
“Wrapped Up” opens things with contemplative guitar chords ringing out, gradually coming to a sedate end, pausing and starting, again. Then the bass heralds the drums, and then things really open up to a whole new soundscape. “Sleepwalker…sink your teeth into the night” encapsulates, if one could be so bold, the mission statement of the album. The lyric, of course, evoking the album title and the fact that vampires are, technically, the sleepwalkers of literature and, perhaps, real life, too.
Come “Keeping You Awake”, once, again, its bass orientated, bolder than the bass arpeggios of “CPH”. The whole entire song, actually, is rather impassioned. Guitar solo, not the most technical, wails out with sizeable, maybe even guttural, roar. The chorus is quite heroic and triumphant, indeed.
Tate tells you adamantly “I Don’t Think About It”, and it’s quite low, though melancholy sad rather than manic depressed. The flourishes of drum really give that drama and tension needed to carry a song of such emotional scope. “Lost my footing/Then next my voice to say…” really hammers home the despondency of the track. Keyboard anchors the hook. Moody drums fade the track out.
At least with “YDNF (Young Dumb Numb Fun)” you know what the acronym stands for. It’s like a total emotional reversal of all preceding it, especially the previous “I Don’t Think About It”. It feels like contentment, the kind achieved without bearing in mind potential potholes or consequences.
Sleepwalker ends “At Ease”, and has a beautiful vocal arrangement. Choral, washing over the listener and very ethereal. The chorus is searching and contemplative. The rhythm section then anchors everything as the guitar, a touch melancholy, reaches out and at ease, indeed. Guitar and beating of the drum ends the song and, in turn, the album.
Definite highlights of the album are “Aliens”, “CPH”, “Don’t Choke” and “At Ease”. The first, for instance, is bleak and creepy, like encountering a UFO. Then the organ kicks, washing over the listener like those lights washing over the viewer of film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. How such a song could convey such an ambience is testament to how it was written and performed.
“CPH” not only has tuneful bass arpeggios underpinning it, it also invoked in this listener a link to two tracks previous, in “Aliens”. Flighty, wayward synthesiser rises like hot air. Is this an antiquated way that man, in a previous mould, would try to make contact with the aforementioned flying saucer, as in via hot air balloon?
“Don’t Choke”, on the other hand, mixes industrial and organic elements for a satisfying mixture. Starting bleak with its industrial ringing, it becomes triumphant and organic. Evidence of this in, of course, the horn arrangement. Like heralding a new king, queen or imperious leader. Think Julius Cesar.
Then “At Ease” has a choral arrangement of vocals in such a way that it seems to transcend the living, up towards the heavens and very ethereal. It has mellow, searching feel, what’s more, is very, as stated earlier, at ease with itself. Is this, once the pain of death is over, appreciating life once it’s gone; but also finding joy in the revelations of afterlife?
There aren’t only links to make in terms of songs carrying over story arcs from previous tracks, as evidenced in the jump between “CPH” and “Keeping You Awake”.
These two, for instance, display prominent work on the bass guitar. The former, for example, plays arpeggios, something that stands out particularly when played, roughly speaking, an octave lower than conventional guitar. The latter, furthermore, continues this theme with work that, as prominent as the work is on “CPH”, doesn’t ape conventional guitar like playing arpeggios does. Evolving bass.
Yes, there aren’t only links to make in terms of songs carrying over particular instrumentation from previous tracks, as evidenced in “I Don’t Think About It” and “YDNF (Young Dumb Numb Fun)”.
These two, for instance, display prominent shifts in song mood. The former, for example, melancholy sad rather than manic depressed. “Lost my footing/Then next my voice to say…” really hammers home said despondency, down in the dumps. The latter, furthermore, is happy, though the fun found when the bone idle haven’t cleared their decks to enable work before play.
Listening to Allen Tate is sometimes like the aural equivalent of watching a movie. Depending on your perception you may hear inextricable links between tracks, some not even side by side. Whether that is continuing the same story, instrumental emphasis or song mood is very much, as said, up to individual interpretation.
The beauty, of course, is that listening to music, such as this very album, maybe has more in common with reading a book. Being deprived of certain senses, the opposite of watching a movie, puts the imagination in overdrive. This making it very fertile, and discussion with others can be enlightening and curious. Allen Tate’s Sleepwalker can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson