Here at Opus, we’re not always “with it.” We don’t keep up with the trends too much, which explains why this particular review is of an album that came out over a decade ago. But I’ve always believed that good music stands the test of time — that true music still has things to say for every generation that discovers it. That’s why I’m more than willing to devote precious server space to Sleeps with the Fishes than to any hot, new releases from that latest underground wunderkind, simply out of the hope that one of you might decide to pick it up.
With the exception of a handful of tracks, this is primarily an album of haunting instrumental pieces, and yet it says more in those wordless 48 minutes than you’d expect. It speaks through its haunting string arrangements (“Finally II,” “Finally I”), spectral guitars (“Suddenly I”), and the lush synth atmospherics that flow through the entire album. And even the vocals have a sad, hushed element about them. To be honest, I’m not sure why this album isn’t more claustrophobic than it actually is. Yet I can’t really consider this music depressing. Perhaps “reflective” or “nostalgic” would be a better word.
Like Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson’s stunning soundtrack for Children of Nature or much of the Projekt Records stable, Sleeps with the Fishes is adept at taking what should be morose music and converts it into something resplendent. And it maintains that sad, beautiful sensation throughout its length. Not too many albums have such a perfectly-realized mood and atmosphere, one that draws you into its haunting world and stays with you long after the last song ends. But Sleeps with the Fishes is just such an album. And though some of its content delves into the goth and ambient genres, it easily avoids the former’s self-indulgent melodramatics and the latter’s vacuousness.
It had been a long time since I’d listened to Sleeps with the Fishes, but after just 30 seconds I remembered just why I loved this album so much. Seeing as 4AD released albums by Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, The Wolfgang Press, and their nigh-legendary Lonely Is An Eyesore compilation at the same time as Sleeps with the Fishes, it’s easy to see why it’s so overlooked. But in all honesty, any discussion concerning 4AD and its impact has to include a mention of Sleeps with the Fishes. Along with This Mortal Coil and The Cocteau Twins, this album is a prime example of the “4AD sound,” and it probably influenced labels like Projekt and Hyperium more than we’ll ever know.
But such talk is ultimately pointless, because this is an inherently intimate album. It’s for those times when you’re alone in your room, late at night and the rest of the world is asleep. It’s just the album and you and nothing else matters. True, it often gets quite dark and mysterious, but it also contains moments of triumph and beauty. Because after all, the best way to deal with darkness is to go through it, regardless of how terrible it may be at the time. And if this album is any indication, there’s always something precious and beautiful on the other side.