On this Montreal-based Americana outfit's delicate, immersive sophomore album, pleasures abound. Between Brad Barr's shrugging vocals and impressionistic lyrics, Sarah Pagé's inventive harp, Andrew Barr's cerebral drumming and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial's lush contributions, there lies a kind of virgin territory in progressive folk music. It's a space in which Delta blues can mingle with Western African rhythmic structures, in which traditional British forms can be shot through with Appalachian energies and Asian melodies, where soft confessional folk songs might nod to Celtic themes while dropping allusions to Blind Lemon Jefferson. For most bands, a foray into this polyglot territory would wind up as unlistenable folly. But the Barrs (who'd been touring and recording for 15 years in the improv-rock band the Slip before they started this project in the mid-2000s) never fail to weave this tangle of influences and ideas into elegant braids.
More focused than their Polaris Prize long listed debut, Sleeping Operator is a mostly mellow affair. A record that prefers to build up intensity before letting it ebb away, doling out flashes of propulsive rhythm in snatches and grasps rather than in the four-on-the-floor anthemic grooves favoured by so many bands these days, Sleeping Operator feels out of time, apart, distinct. And yet, there is nothing about the band or its music that doesn't strike me as progressive. From gorgeous lullabies "Even the Darkness Has Arms" and "Please Let Me Let It Go" to Afro-Delta rave-ups "Little Lover" and "Half Crazy" to idiosyncratic soulful pop of "Love Isn't Enough" and "Come In The Water." little here sounds like much you've heard before. What a band, folks. What a record. (Secret City)