Sleep Whale's debut full-length, Houseboat, smacks of an uncanny maturity that seems far beyond most acts' first full-length offerings. From the album's electro-acoustic opener "Green Echo" to folk-gaze gem "Sleep Reprise" through the positively space-age sounds of "Still Drumming" and "Giant Wings," Joel North and Bruce Blay skillfully weave cello, violin, guitar, bass, percussion, field recordings and, yes, vocals to form a beautifully orchestrated cohesive work. And where Blay and North's debut EP, Little Brite, was content to hover in the background, Houseboat's soaring strings and crashing cymbals are forceful enough to demand a listener's attention, and the song's melodies are poppy enough to keep it. "Cotton Curls," "We Were Dripping" and "Make Another Picture" seem like obvious examples.
Though Blay and North have been making music together as Mom since 2006, the band's 2009 name change to Sleep Whale indicates alterations beyond just the addition of Blay's voice. In an effort to expand the two-piece's sound for its debut on Western Vinyl, North says the album was written for a four-piece, so Paul's brother Joel North of Sunnybrook and Spencer Stephenson of Abacus were added to the fold. The additions helped, and together it seems the band managed to deftly strike a balance between the electro/found sounds and the organic instrumentation.
For the first time, with Houseboat, the band's name change is starting to make sense.