By Will Clemons
What happens when a relatively up-and-coming singer with a talent for writing lyrics spends weeks alone in an entirely new country? Allen Tate’s debut solo album Sleepwalker is the product, and quite a product it is.
Allen Tate began his music career by working with his friend Ellis Ludwig-Leone, an established orchestra director and songwriter. The two, along with roughly nine other members, including the singers from the band Lucius, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, as well as Charlene Kaye, a singer/songwriter who had already made songs under her own name, created the band known as San Fermin, known for its mystical and mysterious melodies. The band was almost unanimously praised by critics, giving the group the recognition it needed to do an international tour. During said tour, the group visited many places across not just the United States, but also countries like France and the UK. One of the more important stops for Tate however, was the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen.
Sleepwalker had been in production for many months before and during the tour, but when interviewed by the music blog Grimy Goods, Tate explained how his album really began in Copenhagen, saying, “It was between tours with San Fermin and we had like four weeks off, and I took three of them to go just live by myself in Copenhagen. I wrote the first four songs of the record while I was there and that jump started it knowing that I had a work in progress; after that it was easier to keep going because before that it was just all in my head, and it’s easier to leave a thing not started then something half-baked.”
Tate explained that the entire process was “pretty relaxed through and through” compared to his work in San Fermin. He said that since he was the only one in the band who didn’t study music in college, he had to think more basically about how he composed his music and wrote lyrics. He explained, “A lot of times, I’ll just mess around on the guitar or bass or something until I kind of find sounds that I feel match what the thing is going to be about, and then fit the words and melodies over those sounds. I’m very lyric and melody-centric, so the songs I think ended up being simpler than San Fermin.”
The album’s roots of spending three weeks alone in a new country with no friends shows. For instance, the first track ‘Aliens,’ a slow, wistful song filled in with gaps of instrumental ebbs and growths, really provides the rest of the album with its predominant theme: that feeling of being lost or alone. The line “They’re in the squares now, they came straight from the beds, like they always do” really highlights the feelings of loneliness Tate felt in Copenhagen. This shows how he just watched these people live their lives, but felt completely separated. The song itself keeps a steady bassline, with many guitar and drum splits. Eventually though, they all combine into an almost orchestral conclusion, combining the heavy synths, an energetic beat, and a presiding guitar. Overall, this song really summarizes the more rough sides of spending too much time alone, the fear of loneliness and intrusive thoughts of sadness.
Fortunately, the record as a whole is quite diverse in its tones, especially with the song ‘Don’t Choke’, which does what feels like a complete 180 from the rough, lonely vibe from the previous song. It takes the ambiguously dreary feelings of ‘Aliens’ and ‘CPH’, and dissects and rationalizes those feelings to where one can more easily understand and overcome them. ‘Don’t Choke’ begins with another deep bassline, but Allen Tate’s marbled baritone joins from the beginning, providing that required human element to give the song a more light-hearted feeling. The chorus provides one of the most positive vibes in the album, with the line “So feed me all of that faith, and build up all of my hopes.” This shows that Tate has moved past his solitude and is ready to return to his friends and family, not in a needy way, but in more of an accepting way. While this is happening, a hauntingly upbeat female voice proclaims, “You’re gonna be great, don’t choke.” The combination of these elements takes this song off of the beaten path created by the album, and really lets it stand out as one of the more interesting, lyrically and musically.
The majority of songs in Sleepwalker are filled with many different messages, lessons, and ideas to be granted to the listener. In a way, Tate is passing on what he’s learned throughout his life so far, and giving them in the form of a song. Perhaps the most influentially important of them all is the theme of the song ‘At Ease’, which makes sense as it is the last song in the album.
During a playing session with the music blog Relix.com, Tate played ‘At Ease’ and prefaced it with this message: “ when I was a kid… my mom used to always tell me… to think of things that made me happy, but weren’t that specific, so like, a memory from childhood… something like swinging on a swing… so I wrote this song about things that make me feel calm when I’m not [calm].” He used the idea of using memories to calm yourself, and translated it into a slightly melancholic but stable song.
Musically, ‘At Ease’ reflects its origins. The soft guitar strums it’s way through the whole song, and keeps stability to guide the lyrics. A substantially sweeter, smoother synth as compared to the other songs on the album gives a load of atmosphere. Finally, Tate’s vocals take advantage of the instruments to wrap the whole thing into one of the more casual and creative songs in Sleepwalker.
The album as a whole is filled to the brim with complex lyrics, intrusively catchy beats, and fulfilling themes. While a little bit abstract, with a few tracks requiring attention to really grasp and appreciate the subtleties, it is one of the better albums released this year. If any listeners are looking for some new tracks to really digest and think about, Sleepwalker is definitely a top choice.
When asked about one of the songs in the record, ‘Being Alone’, by NPR, Tate said that “…three weeks in a foreign place alone affected my thoughts in general.” Just like how spending time lost in your thoughts in new surroundings can expand your vision of yourself and the world you live in, a quick break with Sleepwalker can help clear your thoughts and broaden your spectrum to more than you knew you could see before.