Day Sleeper is a band comprised primarily of college sophomores but they have a remarkably long history. Cas Kaplan (guitar, vocals) has been gigging since age eleven and began writing songs under the moniker Day Sleeper at age twelve. Kaplan finds it important to clarify that Day Sleeper is not a nod to the REM hit of the same name. Actually it is a reference to Insomnia, Kaplan’s former punk band, whose rejected material became Day Sleeper’s early repertoire. Eventually Day Sleeper grew into a band with the addition of guitarist Justin Danforth, bassist Dan Ferm, and drummer Luke Pyenson. They recorded their first album Drop Your Sword in 2008, while attending high school in Newton, MA and released it the following year through Cooling Pie Records, home to KC Quilty among others. Kaplan jokes that, “the album was well received, especially internationally, where oddly enough more Chinese websites have written about it than ones from any other country.” At any rate, I think it’s due time that Day Sleeper got a little love from the press back home and although I’m currently writing from a cafe in Seoul-really it’s just a minor technicality-I hope that this review will at long last introduce them to an American audience.
Kaplan explains that A-side “Windows Left Open” was originally called “Summertime” and “in one sense is meant to evoke the breeziness of that time of year.” Perhaps it does, although I cant help but wonder what that breeze carries. Kaplan asserts that there’s something “cynical and sinister” about it and I agree that the song is altogether unsettling. A distant rumble of thunder and the faint of rain are swept through that open window and pollute the summer afternoon with a foreboding dreariness. Actually, “Windows Left Open” is a fitting single for a band called Day Sleeper. A lumbering 6/8 pulse and lack of harmonic resolution create a dreamy vibe. It’s a little like the feeling you get when you accidentally drift off in the mid afternoon and wake up drenched in a cool sweat, only to find that hours have passed and its already dark out. It always takes a few minutes to figure out what happened, to remember where you are and even who you are. Actually, it reminds me of a passage from Swann’s Way in which Proust describes the sensation he felt as a child upon waking up. This return to reality “did not shock my reason but lay heavy like scales on my eyes and kept them from realizing that the candlestick was no longer lit… I recovered my sight and I was amazed to find a darkness around me soft and restful for my eyes, but perhaps even more so for my mind, to which it appeared a thing with out cause, incomprehensible, a thing truly dark.”
I realize that I’m treading on thin ice with that reference. Day Sleeper is not a pretentious hipster band and I don’t think the comparison to Proust is one that they themselves would draw. But whether or not they’d acknowledge it, their music evokes some of the same sensations. It takes me to a special place where the boundaries between dream, memory, and reality are blurred. A drugged-out lo-fi aesthetic reminiscent of Pavement is interspersed with brief moments of clarity. In this case, the passage “what have I left to say…“ in which the band breaks into a conventional three chord pattern feels like a chorus even though it only happens once and interrupts the disconcerting monotony of the groove. Kaplan explains that “Windows Left Open” is indicative of Day Sleeper’s current artistic direction. “The guitars are tangled, the bass is leading, the drums are groovy and combative, and the vocals are melodic.” He also cites an emphasis on concision, which as a break from the bands “shoegazing” past. “Windows Left Open” retains the washed out guitars and emotional restraint characteristic of shoegaze, but Kaplan’s melodic vocal line is too distinct and the song’s form far too compact to fit the archetypal shoegaze blueprint.
B-side “Hiding Place” is similarly dreamy. I’d attribute that mostly to the vocals which sound suspiciously as if they were recorded under water. Good luck making out a word the band is saying. Here the human voice is used for its melodic qualities rather than as an instrument for speech. And yet the garbled words give the song a sort of haunting quality, as if there is some important message to be conveyed but it’s lost in transmission. I should clarify that this recording is only a demo and that it was recorded in a dormitory. Although it’s hard to imagine now, in later incarnations the song will feature a prominent drum part. Kaplan explains, “I wish there was a version that had Luke’s playing on it, because he really steals the show on this one live.” But even without drums, a strong pulse can be felt. Ferm’s propulsive bass vamp strongly marks the downbeat and gives the song a sense of forward momentum. Day Sleeper isn’t exactly the kind of band to make me get up and dance but they insist that they really love it when people get into their music at shows. In effort to get the crowd moving, “I tried to give this one a little bounce and snap,” explains Kaplan. Nevertheless, the predominant “guitar philosophy” remains the same as in other Day Sleeper songs. Principally, the guitars “weave and dovetail around one another” and move separately from section to section, paying little regard to the whole “verse-chorus-verse thing.” And so, “Hiding Place” strikes an interesting balance. It’s more groove oriented than most of Day Sleeper’s material but it’s so locked in that it becomes predictable.
What’s next for Day Sleeper? They’ve got some major plans. They hope to undertake the recording of a new album in the near future and to follow it up with a national tour. In the mean time they’re releasing a stopgap EP called Wonderland Kid featuring songs recorded at WERS at Emerson College in Boston, including A-side “Windows Left Open”. Day Sleeper has always been an active live band, playing at venues ranging in size from the cramped 75-person basement of the Knitting Factory in NYC to Boston music stronghold TT The Bear’s Place. If you check out their MySpace page you’ll notice that they pitch themselves as a BOS/NYC/CT/MTL band. Most high school bands fall apart after their members are scattered across the country by the college admission gods but Day Sleeper has managed to make the transition from a single-city high school band to a quad-city college band with remarkable grace. They’ve been gigging across the full extent of their geographic range and intend to continue performing as frequently as their schedules will allow. Coming soon to a venue near you…mark your calendars!
Windows Left Open
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem068/01 Windows Left Open.mp3
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem068/02 Hiding Place.mp3