Sleep Study: catchy roving riffs fit for any era on second album, Ms. America

Sleep Study released their first album since 2012 last Friday night at the Uptown VFW. And when I say album, I mean album. They only released vinyl and download versions.

They are an interesting band. I have wanted to see them for a while but they were on a hiatus of sorts for the last couple years. Apparently at the end of 2014, they returned from a long tour, spending last 4 hours from Des Moines to the Cities with no heat in the car. They had just finished their (until now unreleased) second album. The plan was to take a short break for the holidays and return to their heavy gigging schedule.

But that quick break lasted longer than anticipated. Band members got involved with other projects and life went on until the 2016 election, when Ryan Plewacki found motivation to write again and the band resumed talks with Simon Recordings in 2018 about finally releasing their sophomore album, but wanted to take another crack at it in the studio. Plewacki, Justin Hartke, and Michael Gunvalson spent a hurried weekend tracking with engineer Bryan Hanna and Plewacki finished the project in his home studio.

It was worth the wait. They are like the band you see playing the cool club scene a movie. The music is catchy, like pop music but there’s something cooler about it. Something feels deeper. And it could be the cool band from nearly any era.

The staccato vocals have a very 60s or 70s vibe, especially in a song like Party in Here or Modern Man. The string forward sound falls more retro more album than live. Live it’s more rocking with the players feeding off each other and clearly having a good time. Ms. America has such a twangy sound but in a British way. It’s hard to peg down the sound. There are some very space age sound moments like the echoes in Counting Our Favors.

Although they are from Minnesota, there is a British undercurrent in many of the songs. Sometimes that feels like the Beatles; sometimes Stone Roses. There’s a common thread but part of the fun is the ability to defy era.

It feels like they play what they like – unabashedly. And it works. The set up of the night mirrors that sentiment. A strange but tasty buffet of sound. They started with the Black Widows, a solid garage sound and feminist flare behind the black mascara. Loud, retro, punk. Followed by Farewell Milwaukee, also enjoyable but much more mellow sound. With an ethereal wispy sound of the early 70s, like Sleep Study. A fun, different show.

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