Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Review: 'About Last Night' by Sleeper Agent
Sleeper Agent has been, I suppose appropriately, a sleeper for the past few years (warning: that won't be the last time that pun is used). I saw them live a few years back opening for fun. in a small club just after Some Nights hit - y'know, back when fun. could still played small clubs. I couldn't help noticing that I was listening to something special. Sleeper Agent had just one album out, Celabrasion, but they already acted like they belonged: a strong male/female vocalist combo? Check. Infectious on-stage energy? Yep. A unique blend of fun, hard-hitting music with often deceptively deep and serious lyrics? Absolutely. Now their second album, About Last Night, is out, and like most sophomore albums it's kind of a big deal. We get to see if we get more of the same, a completely new direction, or something in between. That might be for you to decide, but one thing that can be definitively said is that it's damn good.
The contrast between vocalists Alex Kandel and Tony Smith is the strongest selling point of Sleeper Agent. From opening track "Be Brave" you're drawn in; Kandel starts out the verse before Smith kicks in with the bridge, and both together during the chorus perfectly underscore the emotion and implications behind "I've been feeling so lonesome that I could cry/But I could be brave in your bed tonight." Neither singer overpowers or overshadows the other; it's so natural that if either were removed or replaced I couldn't imagine how different the song would be.
This sort of balance really describes the entirety of About Last Night. Like the opening track, the others have Kandel and Smith in perfect proportion. They know when to lay off the instruments during "Waves" and allow a simple syncopated beat behind "New York City's up all night, coming down from 99" before kicking back in with other instruments and backup vocals. "Me On You" is almost melancholy for the first few notes before it is decidedly not, but lyrics like "Baby, don't let me waste no more time on you" are accompanied by music you just want to dance to.
The album as a whole, between tracks, keeps this balance, too. Sleeper Agent knows when to push things to their frenetic limit and when to pull back with a more mellow - but no less catchy - track. "Haunting Me" opens with a deep, sultry verse and the rest of the song ("It looks like you, it talks like you, but it won't let me through") is appropriately haunting, while the more folksy "Lorena" starts with simple guitar strumming. You could pick any one song and center the theme and sound of an entire album around it, but luckily you can find it all in one place on About Last Night.
About Last Night is everything you want from a sophomore album: a little more polish, evident growth, and proof that a fantastic first album wasn't just a fluke. With so much to offer, similarities to bands like Grouplove, and touring efforts with the likes of fun. and Fitz & The Tantrums, I have no idea how Sleeper Agent has stayed under the radar for so long. I can't imagine that lasting as people finally wake up to the great sounds Sleeper Agent has to offer.