Postrock/dreampop instrumentalists Sleep Maps have a ferocious, politically spot-on new antiwar album just out, titled Medals. Inspired by the 1971 Winter Soldier protests – led by Vietnam vets who publicly disowned their medals as a repudiation of war crimes at the highest levels of power – the long 4-track ep sets smartly chosen samples of commentary from across the decades against a backdrop of blistering, murky guitar-fueled swirl and roar. More bands should be making music this powerful and relevant. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site.
Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan played all the instruments on the band’s previous, more metal-oriented album, Fiction Makes the Future. Although he’s got a full band now, it’s not clear if the latest album is all him or not. Whatever the case, he’s a tremendous guitarist. Tremolo-picking is his thing: he’s got a right hand that Dick Dale (ok, if Dick Dale was a righty) would kill for. Wailing up and down on the strings, his amp ringing with reverb or smoldering with distortion, he sounds like a one-man guitar orchestra, something multiplied many times over as he multitracks himself. Immediate comparisons that come to mind are Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine; Kaplan is also obviously into the more interesting side of metal, and will occasionally reference an atmospheric indie band like Explosions in the Sky. And unlike the previous album, this one goes in a goth direction when Kaplan puts a watery chorus box effect on his guitar.
The first track, The Final Weapon opens a la Siousxie’s Icons with muffled cannon-fire sonics, followed by a brutally disingenuous Lyndon Johnson sample. Kaplan taps and then tremolo-picks over a tricky tempo, rising and falling and then bringing in the watery 80s jangle. The dirge Blackout Eyes looks at the alienation and disillusion faced by veterans, with quotes from the January, 1971 Winter Soldier demo interspersed among moody atmospherics spiced by savage picking and what sounds like a string patch on a guitar synth. The Heavens Gaze Empty explodes with eerie MBV-style close harmonies and macabre chromatics, lush and ominous, as much a dismissal of the insanity of war as the samples of the vets throwing their Purple Hearts and Distinguished Service Crosses into the pyre. The final track, Horror in the Telescope is the most careening and haphazard, and maybe for that reason even more powerful, at one point revisiting a gothic riff from the second song as crunchy Pantera-style metal. This album ought to pick up a lot of fans on both the metal and indie side and makes a killer reel for Kaplan in the event that he’s looking for film work.