Like making my way back to a place once proud to call home, there is a solid sense of familiarity in the music of Sleeping States. The sedately strummed acoustic guitar, Markland Starkie’s pretty as a peach vocals…these are variables that I have come to admire in many songwriters like the English Midlands-born artist. But something is slightly eschew when it comes to Sleeping States, much like the Midwestern city I once claimed as my own. And on There the Open Spaces (Misra), Starkie cuts up slivers of oddly timed samples, and strews them across a less than lively life line. It’s uneasy, it’s lonely, it’s even cold at times. But given the sudden feeling of being out of whack in what once were intimate borders, Open Spaces suits my own mood perfectly.
Starkie obviously relishes the role of the singer/songwriter…He sounds too much the classic kind of fellow, dusting his Morrissey albums nightly, to deny it. So it is odd to hear him proclaim that, “When I started Sleeping States, I gave myself a set of rules because I had a real problem with singer/songwriters. I find the whole thing cheesy beyond belief.” No need to worry Markland. Songs as lonely as “Rivers”, and the sprawling nine-minute gem “Memory Games” are too isolated to sound cheesy. Tack the romantic undertones that seep into “The Sleeping States, or Who Has Been rocking My Dream Boat”…a woozy, wine bar ode to those stoic spells just the right kind of woman can put a man under…and Starkie’s songs sounds so heart felt, there can be no confusion as to their authenticity. Cheesy-ness avoided.
Perhaps listener’s personal taste should be Starkie’s only real concern. Aside from “September, Maybe” and “I Wonder”, both of which mimic a stripped down Broken Social Scene, Open Spaces is an unsettling and hushed experience, ironically, never reaching for any kind of wide open place where Starkie can clamor on to any dynamic he so chooses. Rather, Open Spaces remains, by contrast, in the indistinct confines of dark room haunts, and late night back alley boundaries. For those willing to step into such a curious environment, there is plenty the sonic shadows eventually reveal. What initially seems uncomfortable is ultimately orienting and comfortable. And as I warm up to the fact that I, in fact, have moved on from the cheesy life I once lived, I guess the same can be said for my former neighborhood. It to is orienting, and comfortable after all. - David Pitz