May 8 2013 04:31 PM

Indie-pop project's new Teenager.' is as cute as it is complex


Inspired & The Sleep Teenager. (Bad Panda; Not Punk)

Usually, all you need is one good idea to write a song. But some musicians are full of ideas. And Max Greenhalgh, the main guy behind the promising indie-pop band / solo project Inspired & The Sleep, seems to have more good ideas than he knows what to do with.

On Inspired & The Sleep's new album, Teenager. (which came out last year on Bad Panda Records and is now being released on cassette tape by Not Punk Records), Greenhalgh sounds like a really smart kid in a candy shop—a classy one that sells chocolate truffles with sea salt and fruit bonbons imported from France. The album is as cute as it is complex, full of intricate arrangements and quirky musical parts.

Featuring a delightful array of instruments—from pretty flute to cheap-sounding keyboards—the album's 10 tracks seem to take cues from a range of sounds, including the looped indie-funk of tUnE-yArDs and the early output of They Might Be Giants. The songs are a bit unpredictable, full of twists and turns and flights of fancy, but Greenhalgh keeps them grounded with syncopated drums, gently soulful bass lines and a relaxed, somewhat aloof singing style.

With its winsome piano motif, punchy beat and lovely, half-time breakdown, "Smiles for Adoption" reflects the feeling of drifting off to sleep while daydreaming in chemistry class. Even more enthralling is the bittersweet "Spar Helm," a song about lost love that balances mournful vocal harmonies and poignant piano with what sounds like homemade percussion resounding in each ear.

But while the album is full of remarkable moments—the in-the-pocket mid-section groove of "You'll Be a Tree, I'll Be a Cloud," the plucky opening section of "Shades"—you eventually start to lose track of when one song ends and the other begins. Some of the songs don't quite cohere; "Sssuuunnnish" collapses under the weight of its own complexity, sounding like a bundle of sections without a unifying energy or theme to guide them.

But while Greenhalgh's ideas sometimes get the better of him, it's still a thrill to hear him do his thing on Teenager. Whether or not he ever steps out of that candy shop, he'll still be a songwriter worth paying attention to. 

Email or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.


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