...well paced and diverse...
Simon Fernand 2008
We Are Becoming Islands One by One is the debut album from The Sleeping Years (a.k.a. Irish singer/songwriter Dale Grundle). Like the EPs that preceded it, this album features Grundle's breathy vocals, perfectly complimented by gently plucked acoustic guitars, twinkling piano and mournful cello. It starts slowly with the gentle Setting Fire to Small Towns and the beautifully understated The Lockkeepers Cottage before You and Me Against the World ups the tempo, with one of the album's poppiest (and finest) moments.
One of Grundle's great strengths is his ability to write beautiful lyrics. The words are frequently cryptic, always poetic and sometimes practically impenetrable. Throughout the album, natural imagery is fused with tales of loss, loneliness and despair. In Macosquin, Coleraine he sings ''The wind banks low, draws a furrow through the fields by the wish stone and while the constellations pin us down, one death makes all the dogs howl''. Not the ideal party album, then.
That's not to say that We Are Becoming Islands One by One is all doom and gloom. Human Blues starts off with a Bonham-esque drum beat and stabbed piano chords, and builds to a dramatic, cello-laden climax, and the frantic drumbeat of Clocks and Clones, coupled with its multi-layered vocal effect make it one of the albums standout tracks.
Although Grundle's songwriting is clearly influenced by the acoustic singer/songwriters you might expect (Nick Drake, Tim Buckley et al), this album doesn’t stay rooted in the past. Album closer, Islands, with its subtle yet driving drums and unearthly e-bowed guitar ebbs and flows, and is closer in sound to The Postal Service or Electric President than it is to, say, John Martyn.
We Are Becoming Islands One by One is an unusually delicate debut album; so much so that sometimes it threatens to disappear altogether. Fortunately Dale Grundle has written an album that is well paced and diverse enough to never quite cross the precarious line between gentle subtlety and dullness.