There is a dark part to the world that we don’t see that often. It’s a world of subterfuge, mistrust and double dealings. It’s a world of continuing cold war and brinksmanship and impending nuclear warfare. It’s the world ‘Sleeper Cell’ by Skinny Downers.
End, rather counter-intuitively, starts the album on a pertinently foreboding footing. It is the sound of a war room on the eve of nuclear annihilation; full of processed beats, bleeps and lonesome rolling waves.
Watch Yr Temper, in a similar vein, is the sound of impotent panic. There is the sweeping, post-rock guitar of the chorus and the vocals, reminiscent of Paul Banks, are distorted almost beyond recognition. All Function Is Lost, then, sounds like an aftermath. “We took the lives of so many,” the vocals lament above the fuzzy bass and the alarm-like chorus.
After the opening three songs the doom lifts, if only slightly, but the album remains claustrophobic an inauspicious. Crochet Dreamwalker is an enthralling plod-rock track that’s slow on tempo but engaging until it exits with a whimper, epitomising some depressingly inevitable situation.
Sleeper Cell, meanwhile, is almost uplifting with its instrumental chorus nearly reminiscent of something Morcheeba might produce but for the mechanical ticks and hums that underscore the guitar sound. A Manifesto sounds like a darker Interpol circa ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, the vocals more like Banks here than anywhere else on ‘Sleeper Cell’, particularly on the call of “It’s a long way down, follow me, follow me” of the chorus.
Devil Speak though is the highlight of the album. Again, it’s depressing in its lyrics – “We’re gently drifting through life/Where’s our childhood gone” – with another catchy, instrumental chorus. Just as you think that song is going to play out in a damp squib of sadness a shout of “You’ve changed your mind” switches the emotional pitch to anger. It’s a punch of urgency that works perfectly, just where it’s needed.
Whatever world of paranoia and desperation that Skinny Downers inhabit, it doesn’t seem like one you’d wish to stay in for too long. With ‘Sleeper Cell’ though they offer an intriguing, impressive, if downbeat, 39 minute glimpse into their world, and that’s enough to keep us satisfied.
It’s not goodtime, sunshine music; it’s not something you’ll find yourself singing long after you’ve heard it; but it’s something intriguing and different, and something worth a listen.