Sleepingdog: With Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields
Gizeh Records

Now here's a brilliant idea: take Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie, with all of the production and compositional promise that that brings with it, and pair him with chanteuse Chantal Acda, who contributes beautiful vocalizing and a well-honed song sensibility, and what results is a stunning collection of electronic-folk balladry called With Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields. The two first collaborated on the last track, “The Struggle,” of Wiltzie's 2004 release The Dead Texan (kranky), before formalizing their Sleepingdog partnership on Naked in a Clean Bed (Zeal, 2006) and Polar Life (Gizeh/Zeal, 2008) prior to this third album's creation.

Placing the album's longest song first is a bold move but in this case one that pays off handsomely. “Untitled Ballad of You and Me” is buoyed by a simple yet haunting theme first voiced by piano alone and then paired with Acda's fragile, tremulous voice. In fact, the music proves so alluring, you may find yourself hard pressed to remember what she's singing about, so transfixing is the material on purely sonic grounds. A key change finds the song moving from initial moments of uplift into a slightly darker section dominated by organ and multi-tracked vocals before reverting back to the sparse piano-and-vocals arrangement with which it began. Of course there are other sounds present too, yet they're woven so seamlessly into the overall fabric they're sometimes easy to miss. In a typical song, vocals and keyboards, piano especially, inhabit the foreground, while acoustic guitar, strings (courtesy of cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir and violinist Chester Desmond), and subtle atmospheric embellishments flesh out the painterly background.

Like the first song, “It Leaves Us Silent” pairs its gorgeous vocal and piano melody presented together, while what sounds like a mellotron—with all of the King Crimson and Moody Blues associations it brings with it—provides powerfully evocative backing. A similarly affecting melodic quality elevates “He Loved to See the World Through His Camera,” a song that finds Wiltzie's voice in a rare moment shadowing Acda's, and the slow-burning anthem “Scary Movie.” Her voice becomes a mere whisper alongside wavering long tones during “Kitten Plays the Harmony Rocket,” an ambient setting whose title and style comes closest of all the album's tracks to resembling a Stars of the Lid composition. The album's title is well-chosen, given how much its material combines the ethereal and the emotional into a haunting, forty-three-minute collection that ends up sounding both earthy and heavenly. Though it's early in the year, one might anticipate seeing Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields on at least a few year-end 'best of' lists.

April 2011