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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum curates highly nuanced dadaist nightmares.

Wednesday, Oct 31 2001
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Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of infamous avant-cabaret group Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum pushes its music to the extremes. Like a dadaist nightmare, the Bay Area cult band's highly anticipated debut album, Grand Opening and Closing, steers toward both utter chaos and huge silent spaces. But the kaleidoscopic sounds are more than merely loud or soft (or nonexistent): A sophisticated sense of nuance gives Sleepytime's songs a character that's uniquely atmospheric and utterly alien in the theater of art rock.

On the surface of the pounding anthem "Sleep Is Wrong," you'll hear Nils Frykdahl's warped guitar riffs and chugging vocals dive headlong into the bone-crushing beats of drummer Frank Grau, percussionist Moe! Staiano, and bassist Dan Rathbun. But the real muscle of the piece stems from Carla Kihlstedt's subtly shifting violin lines and the weird industrial vibrations from Rathbun's homespun, stringed percussion instruments.

Elsewhere, the band creates tension via an array of intermeshing melodies and harmonies that rocket in several directions at once. And yet, intricate changes stand out from the rhythmic tug-of-wars. Even supremely quiet compositions such as the autoharp-and-bell instrumental "Sunflower" benefit from SGM's supple overlaying of melodies and textures. This attention to nuance gives all of Sleepytime's soundtracks -- from the ear-bleeders to the lullabies -- a one-of-a-kind, seductive power.

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Sam Prestianni

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