While the Australian music scene is vibrant and highly skilled, it's rare that one of our own is at the top of the tree in any specific genre. Courtney Barnett and Sia can lay claim to being at the pinnacle of their genres, and with Made of Breath Only, sleepmakeswaves have made it impossible to talk about modern post-rock without them. In fact, this record is so good, so diverse, and so forward-thinking it's possible they've made themselves indispensable for many years to come. The hierarchy of post-rock bands changes at a glacial speed, which makes their ascent all the more impressive.
Anyone who has seen sleepmakeswaves live saw this moment coming. I caught them way back in 2007, opening for legends Pelican, and they sounded just as good, if not better than the main event, and they only had a 2 track demo out! Their live energy is splattered all over Made of Breath Only. A feel for atmospherics informs songs like "Our Days Were Polar" and "Glacial", proving that even in the realm of ambient music they can fill a large venue with sound. Traditional Aussie rock fans will love the first single "Tundra", a cagey pub-rock riff that builds into a glorious but tempered euphoria before slipping into a subdued stupor, not unlike 2am at your local watering hole. That they can manipulate mood and evoke memory and emotion so expertly is a feat in and of itself, and this is just their third full-length record.
What of the peaks? Post-rock music is all about that build up and satisfying release of pressure, a dam wall bursting as guitars rush the listener through all four speakers. Explosions in the Sky are the undisputed champions of this art, and against them all new albums must be measured. Made of Breath Only usually favours 2 peaks per song, steeped and well controlled, but the build up is a less subtle affair. On "Worlds Away" there's a wonderful stretchy bass that bubbles away under an energetic riff that hits an early peak at 2 minutes, sounding like some sort of Dragonforce speed-rock piece. The mid-track lull is reminiscent of the eye of the storm, although wholly more relaxing than an eery drop in pressure. "Into the Arms of Ghosts", "Midnight Sun" and "To Light and then Return" all employ this technique, anchoring the album with a style that's fast becoming a sleepmakeswaves staple.
This group from Sydney has evolved into one of the tightest and most proficient bands in the country. Along with Karnivool, sleepmakeswaves are flying the flag for Australian technical rock overseas. Traditionally known as a country that produces great sloppy pub rock (AC/DC, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, early Silverchair), we're now forging a reputation as purveyors of high-quality heavy stuff. As the European market for harder rock continues to shrink, there's an opportunity for a new continent to poach fans and establish themselves. Albums like Made of Breath Only, which debuted on the ARIA charts at number 15, can help influence and mould a generation of younger bands seeking to mimic that success. The future is bright, but for now, let's just enjoy a bloody good Aussie album.