Fans of Japancakes, this is your year. Not only did the group release their new album Giving Machines last year, but their lovely re-imagining of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless arrived at just about the same time, making for a nice one-two combination from the group. As if that weren't enough, Darla Records has decided to up the ante even more by reissuing the first three records from the group, all of which have been out-of-print for awhile now.
Despite that status, only their debut If I Could See Dallas was truly hard-to-find, but this nice treatment will no doubt introduce them to a wider audience. Of the first three releases, The Sleepy Strange is my favorite, and probably the most cohesive and smooth of their early work. The group hasn't varied their sound a great deal over the course of their nearly decade in existence, and all the familiar sounds are here. The drums are steady and sharp, there are loads of overlapping keyboards, some nice strings, and of course the pedal steel curls through the mix like a ribbon in the gentle breeze.
With seven songs running almost fifty minutes, The Sleepy Strange might also be one of the more jam-oriented batches of music from the group. It's said that they sat down and recorded it improvisation-style with no rehearsal, but I'd be hard-pressed to have guessed that. While nothing on the release is going to blow back your eyebrows with force, it's a heck of a soundtrack for a lazy afternoon. "The Waiting" is just over eight minutes of soft, lush atmospheric crescendos that dip and weave with that killer pedal steel, and the album-titled "The Sleepy Strange" feels like the backing to a dreamy western movie as hop-along rhythms mingle with more steel guitar and some bowing strings.
In this day of quiet-loud, silence-to-violence post rock explosions, this understated release from the group seems downright quaint, but that's part of the charm as well. At the time it was released, Japancakes were in a much less crowded genre, but the release still manages to hold up with its faint tints of jazz, western, and even kraut (the slightly more propulsive, but still gorgeous "Soft N Ez"). Sure, it sounds a bit dated given everything that's come behind it, but this is still a lovely little release worth wrapping up in.