Friday, October 06, 2006

Team Sleep

As current alt-metal fans and recovering late ‘90s nu metal heads await the Deftones’ 5th studio album to drop in stores at the end of this month, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit lead singer Chino Moreno’s overlooked side project from last year, Team Sleep.

You wouldn’t know it by listening to his main band’s music, but Moreno always loved relatively quieter and anti-chaotic “headphones” music, such as Massive Attack records. The Deftones, of course, never ceased to raise all hell, on stage or on record. Headphones offered no refuge from the Deftones experience, as they often made music as loud, raucous, and heavy as they could make it. They managed to find time for more melodic-driven rockers too, especially as the 1990s turned to the 2000s.

But in 2005, Moreno took a break (after 15 years with Deftones) to promote Team Sleep, a project that was in the works for a long time, according to all press accounts. That work culminated in the release of Team Sleep’s self-titled debut on Maverick Records in May of last year.

Moreno’s two main working partners on the album are old high school friend and guitarist Todd Wilkinson and DJ Crook (drum programming, turntables). Its digital and soothing soundscapes complement Chino’s impassioned singing style, and gears much of the record towards a softer, “headphones” style of rock that’s closer to shoegaze than metal, though Moreno and company don’t totally abandon loud rock on this record.

While Crook uses sequencers to cook up an array of sounds and other experiments, Zach Hill livens up the often moody atmosphere of the record with his boisterous drumming style, going all out on the few purely heavy, Deftones-like tracks like “Your Skull Is Red” and “Blvd. Nights.” Helium’s singer Mary Timony does guest vocals on a couple of cuts, but singer/guitarist Rob Crow of lo-fi San Diego indie pop rockers Pinback sings on no less than four tracks on Team Sleep’s debut. His soft tenor works surprisingly well with Moreno, who has toned it down himself for this record (no hardcore shrieks to be found). In fact, at least a couple of the Rob Crow-led songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pinback record, especially album closer “11/11,” as Todd Wilkinson’s jangle/dreampop guitars give the song a pure sound (no electronic gadgets needed) and ends the album on a high note.

In its entirety, Team Sleep is a consistently good record that gets better with each listen. It does, without question have a dark, moody theme to it, much like A Perfect Circle’s records. However, the delicately layered soft guitars, the sporadic loud ones, the live band feel, all mixed in with electronic buzzes, beats and other experiments, along with a good rotation of special guests works very well, with few exceptions. All of these elements makes Team Sleep one of the more exceptional albums of 2005, even though it was absent from many critics’ “best of” lists. It is impressive for a side project as well, spearheaded by one of the most distinctive voices in modern metal.

Key tracks: “Ever (Foreign Flag),” “Princeton Review,” “11/11” and “Elizabeth”

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