Album: Made of Breath Only
Record label: Birds Robe
Release date: April 4th, 2017
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1. Our Days Were Polar
2. Worlds Away
3. To Light and/Then Return
5. The Edge of Everything
7. Into the Arms of Ghosts
10. Midnight Sun
To the world at large, perhaps the greatest gift Australia has given is the classic-rock double-whammy of AC/DC and spunky younger brother Airbourne. To the world of comedy, it is the ersatz black humour of heavy-metal comedian Steve Hughes. To discerning listeners, it is Sydney-based post-rock collective sleepmakeswaves. Their third studio album Made of Breath Only sees the band make a definitive statement of how far they have come, and what kind of place they are carving in the world of post-rock.
On looking at the album title and crisp artwork showing fragmented sea ice, you might think the album is a calmer, more ambient offering than previous works. You would be wrong. Quiet intro ‘Our Days Were Polar’ crescendoes into ‘Worlds Away’, which rockets along, the guitar-driven melody carried deftly on Alex Wilson’s light-fingered synths. Their Long Distance Calling meets 65daysofstatic vibe is still present here, especially on tracks like ‘The Edge of Everything’ or in the opening bars of ‘Made of Breath Only’, though they have overall toned down the atmospheric sound of previous albums in favour of a guitar-driven melodic line.
The band’s tagline is “we write love songs to delay pedals.” They mean it; they really mean it. But where in today already walks tomorrow had an echoing, resonant atmosphere so thick you could almost touch it, that resonance has been thinned somewhat on Made of Breath Only. This serves to give the album a sleeker, cleaner sound that is, in fairness, only slightly detrimental to their sound. It’s still a dynamic, vivacious album, with uplifting melodies – evidenced best in the breakout single ‘Tundra’ and on ‘Worlds Away’. It should also be noted that they have not abandoned heaviness in favour of wispy post-rock that focusses solely on melody. Short of standing outside in one, the aggressive guitar and drums of ‘Hailstones’ is the closest you’ll get to an accurate musical representation of a hailstorm. It even includes a thunderous bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place in proggier outfits like Sithu Aye.
This lighter sound exposes the fragility of the general theme of the album – that of life’s impermanence. Speaking to Heavy Blog Is Heavy, bassist/keyboardist Alex Wilson stated that the album highlights a “real sense of precariousness to existence”  and, while it is not a concept album per se, is loosely themed around climate change. This is borne out in the album artwork: the fragmented ice-sheet and song titles themed around the polar regions. This fragility translates into the music as well: note the soft dynamics in ‘Made of Breath Only’ and its delicate piano playing – the song could very well have been made purely of a musician’s breath, or even a light breath of wind.
Above all else, the album is one of the most joyful post-rock releases in recent years. Where their contemporaries in Meniscus display heavy basslines and epic grandeur in mostly a minor key on Refractions [review here], Made of Breath Only sees sleepmakeswaves rocket along at what is comparatively breakneck pace for a post-rock band, playing in a variety of keys but so joyfully on each that you cannot help but smile. I challenge listeners to hear ‘Worlds Away’ without feeling buoyed or empowered. The album is not all like this though – ‘Made of Breath Only’ is not just a delicate piano ballad, but also evokes the darker emotions brought forth by contemplating life’s fragility. The frenetic ‘Into the Arms of Ghosts’ is more melancholic still. However, their placement just after the album’s epic bridge number ‘The Edge of Everything’ allows them to serve as both contrast to and amplifier for the joyous, pacy songs around them. The slower pace of ‘Glacial’ also helps in this regard, giving the album enough variation in sound to prevent it all blurring together.
In sum, Made of Breath Only is a fantastic addition to the sleepmakeswaves discography. At an almost ferocious pace, it takes them from the heady atmospherics of their first EP into uplifting melodic territory, without forgoing the dynamics and pacing which would otherwise let all the songs blur together. More love songs written for delay pedals should sound like this.
1. Interview with Heavy Blog is Heavy here.