Sleepytime Trio, Memory-Minus

Yancey Strickler

By Yancey Strickler

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Inspiration to scores of Mid-Atlantic post-hardcore bands (arguably second only to Fugazi in terms of regional reach), Sleepytime Trio from Harrisonburg, VA, were one of the best bands of the mid-to-late '90s, their live shows exercises in controlled chaos and this mostly studio album a picture imperfect representation of not only who they were, but what their offshoots, including Engine Down, Milemarker and Rah Brahs, would be.

Sleepytime Trio's sound was perfectly suited to the basement shows they so often played: drummer Jonathan Fuller loud, precise and malleable to the band's tumbling rhythms; the vocals alternately haunted and horrifyingly plaintive (Ben Davis, Drew Ringo and David NeSmith all sang); bassist Davis carrying the entire melodic load on his four strings; and guitarist Ringo scraping out mid-fret counterpoints that rotated between harmony and cacophony. But in sweaty basements (where I saw the band many times), the elements coalesced thanks to shitty sound systems (PA? What's a PA?) that resulted in a piercing combination of heavy bass, propulsive drums and, somewhere off in the muddled distance, a solitary scream. (The live version of "Jesus Extract" illustrates this affect terribly — which is to say perfectly.)

The best song here is "Like My Plain," which to these ears sounds like a hardcore riff on that classic-rock catastrophe "Smoke on the Water" — slow it down half speed, drop a note or two and, dude, you're so there. The following "Flake City" is an intense shouter, straight hardcore all the way, and "Dear Hands" is notable for its manic drum patterns.

There's nary a bad track here. Anyone who digs the '90s D.C. scene or even the mid-career Unwound records will have to wonder: where has this record been all your life?