"Wake me on the softer side of heaven," Bret Constantino and Rachel Fannan plaintively harmonize; the first words we hear on Sleepy Sun's Fever offer an early hint of the surreal dreaminess that hovers over the next forty minutes of psychedelic rock and roll. The new album comes just a year after the band's debut, Embrace, came out to widespread acclaim, but the band hasn't tamed its trademark wandering spirit, once again blending elements of heavy rock, psych, folk and blues into another compelling batch of songs.
The first half of Fever is almost an exercise in duality, shifting between heavy stomp-rockers like "Wild Machines," which showcases extraterrestrial guitar noises and serious feedback squall, and more stripped-down acoustic songs like "Rigamaroo" and "Ooh Boy," that ride on the harmonies of the band's two soulful vocalists. The second half is more uniformly electric, but no less varied in sound. "Desert God" feels as much like a suite as a single song, peaking halfway through with a harmonica and drums breakdown that's simply vicious.
For all of the times I've listened to Fever recently, none felt so right as having the album turned up loud on a car ride to the beach on a warm Saturday afternoon. The band, which originated in Santa Cruz before relocating to SF, offer oblique lyrical references to the natural world throughout, suggesting that they're more interested in the state's forests and deserts than the urban world. Befitting that range, Fever is full of expansive, rhythmic music. "Marina" shifts midway from a laconic jam into a tribal drum workout, while "Freedom Line" is driven by distorted bass.
At its core, the charm of a group like Sleepy Sun, I think, is the inescapable sense that they're doing pretty much exactly what they want to be doing at any given moment, without a concern for whether it fits any expectation of where a song is supposed to go, or how it is supposed to sound or feel. That's the feeling I get especially from "Sandstorm Woman." At nearly ten minutes, the album's final song is by far its longest, a smoldering, entrancing jam that allows all of the group's talented musicians room to shine, including Constantino's harmonica, which adds another layer of echoing haze. "We have the vision if you have the eyes," the co-vocalists sing on "Freedom Line." Whether your eyes are opened by this album or not, your ears will certainly remain engaged throughout.