Sleepy Zuhoski: Better Haze

Sleepy Zuhosi Sleepy Photo Credit Casey Pinckard.jpg

Submitted by Mark Druery

We are immediately confronted with Sleepy Zuhoski’s talents when listening to his debut studio album Better Haze. The first song of twelve, “Asleep for a Year”, invokes a side of Sleepy Zuhoski’s musical character recurring throughout the album and his woozy, slightly hallucinatory vocal is an ideal fit for the lyrical and musical mood. The folk influences informing this cut are obvious from the first but never clichéd. Those same influences exert a hold over the second song “Sour” with a focus on a cleaner presentation, specifically on the vocal, but greater clarity from the instruments as well. Zuhoski’s vocal phrasing deserves to be singled out for his skilful invocation of the song’s sentiment. “Muscle Memory” is one of my favourite Zuhoski performances and the understated musical arrangement accomplishes much without ever straining for effect. It’s one of the more completely realized numbers on Better Haze.

Almost Automatic” has a bright guitar melody at the centre of the tune that, along with the aforementioned number, pushes back a little against the downcast melancholy of the album’s opening duo. The introduction of drums to the song near its midway point gives “Almost Automatic” added impetus without ever coming off as overwrought. The low-key electronic pulse underlying “New Tattoo” gives Zuhoski a steady, percolating foundation for one of Zuhoski’s most stylish, nuanced vocal performances. Everything about this particular cut is cut close to the bone, but surprising flourishes of colour like the near-raucous guitar in the song’s second half help put this song in its own world. There’s a definite dance-pop vibe to this, but there’s also much more going on here than what a cursory listen might reveal.

“Tsunami” is moulded in a similar fashion without any of the straight-ahead drumming distinguishing the earlier track. In contrast, “Tsunami” is a little more vague and arguably achievements its effect more through accumulation rather than straight-forward melodies. There’s some particularly tasty bass playing that’s likely to catch your ear. The uncluttered uptempo character of “On a Cloud” will capture your attention with its consistent rhythms and the minimal adornment accompanying the backbeat makes it all the more effective. Even when the song transitions into distinctly different passages, they sound like the same song.

We’re back in melancholic, unsettled lands for the song “Hate to Sleep” and the delicate interplay between Zuhoski’s voice and often atmospheric instrumental accompaniment makes this one of the all-around entertaining efforts on Better Haze. The old-timey melodic romp of “Love You to Death” pairs well with the album finale “Books”, essentially a solo performance with only a backing singer and slide guitarist joining Zuhoski’s efforts on this satisfying curtain closer. Sleepy Zuhoski’s going to make an enormous impression on listeners and his peers alike with the songs we hear on Better Haze; there’s an astonishing amount of diversity on the release and he never feels like a writer or performing groping for ideas and inspiration. Both are present here in abundance and make it one of the year’s finest albums.