CD REVIEW: Better Haze by Sleepy Zuhoski
It isn’t a stretch to call this album homemade or a labor of love. The latter expression is more clichéd than I’d like, but language fails to better convey the intimacy defining Sleepy Zuhoski’s debut collection Better Haze. One doesn’t publicly release an album indifferent to listener’s reactions, but Better Haze’s dozen songs are clearly written with the idea of satisfying Zuhoski’s needs and preferences first and foremost. It’s a testament to his talents such a personal connection to the performances never narrows the songwriting’s accessibility. Despite the relatively far flung musical territory Zuhoski covers with his first album, each of the tracks possesses a resonant quality for his intended audience – discerning longtime music listeners – further distinguishing the material. This transplanted Texan, originally hailing from disparate worlds like Wisconsin and New York, displays some of the rugged individualism we associate with the Lone Star State with Better Haze and it opens his discography with a definite high note.
“Asleep for a Year” is an excellent opener. It isn’t representative of Zuhoski’s talents because his reach is far greater than this song indicates, but he certainly takes on a folky mantle with no obvious sign of discomfort. The post-production spice added to his vocal doesn’t mar the performance in any way – the intention, obviously, is to heighten atmosphere and it succeeds quite well. “Muscle Memory” is one of the album’s finest songs and latches onto an artful groove from the outset that sustains the entirety of the track without ever exhausting listener’s patience. “Almost Automatic” has a more upbeat vibe than much of the other material on Better Haze.
“Daydream” is much more grounded and straight forward than a lot of the other songs on the album and it’s due, in no small part, to Zuhoski’s preference here for clean and balanced production. Despite its lofty title, “Daydream” never meanders and shows the same focus distinguishing the best songs on Better Haze. There’s a surprising classic pop vibe influencing the sound and direction of the song “Voices”, but with distinctively understated style and sensitive accompaniment from Zuhoski’s collaborators. Producer Salim Nourallah definitely understands how to best frame Zuhoski’s talents and his method produces memorable results with each of the album’s twelve songs.
There’s a light, late-night urban vibe to the song “Tsunami” without it ever veering too far into the realm of outright EDM. Zuhoski’s predilection for musical substance trumping any desire to pander for audience’s attention. This is one of the better songs on Better Haze and does an exceptional job combining essential fundamentals with a sharp modern edge. The rollicking jazz rag tone of the penultimate tune, “Love You to Death”, makes for one of the album’s more absurdly entertaining moments and the vocals help put it over the top. The collection closes with an acoustic number, lightly influenced by the blues thanks to a slide guitar’s presence in the track, an outright folk track entitled “Books”. It’s, arguably, the album’s most spartan number and ends an emotionally deep release with a comparatively uncomplicated note. Garrett “Sleepy” Zuhoski’s Better Haze possesses depths deserving to be explored.
by Jason Hillenburg
Matthew John is wearing his heart on his sleeve when he lays the lyrical patchwork …