Review: Long Beard, ‘Sleepwalker’

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 11/2/2015

The first album from Long Beard, a band led by New Brunswick, New Jersey, singer-songwriter Leslie Bear, raises some big questions: What happens to your soul when you die? How about the specters of past relationships and life stages? Assembled partly from recordings made in suburban attics and bedrooms, it’s an album that feels right at home on Team Love Records, the indie label co-founded by the king of melancholic folk anthems himself, Conor Oberst.

The spirit of Sleepwalker is a lonely, restless one. Bear’s featherweight soprano meanders from song to song like a spirit that’s cycled through centuries, dragging her guitar along for the ride. She tosses and turns with romantic longing in lead single “Porch,” and reaches an even more passionate state in “Turkeys,” whose chords unravel after she pleads, “Won’t you come over/And dance with me?” The foot-dragging malaise of “Hates The Party” has a reassuring feel for anyone prefers to stay in on Saturday nights instead of battling social anxiety in rooms full of uptight strangers.

Throughout the album, the band swims against a current of looped drones and howls akin to paranormal voices. By “Someplace,” the effect gets distracting: Backward loops go spiraling into the ether of Bear’s memory, her words hard to discern, the sounds even harder to stay invested in, to a point where only insomniacs, ghost hunters and sleepwalkers may stick around through these small hours. Eventually, Bear breaks through the sleepy muddle and takes on an earthy country-music inflection on “Days Of Heaven,” where she laments, “Lost my friend to the color green/In her eyes, they don’t remember me.” By the time you reach the bell-like reverbed guitars in “Twinkle Twinkle,” you can rest easy: This spirit is finally at peace.

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