New Jersey's emo-rock outfit the Progress paved the way for Evan Weiss to lay roots with Into It. Over It. Years later, another member from that band, in guitarist Eric McNelis, comes along to help chuck indie-rockers Sleep In at us. It's a prime time to shoot this given the wave of emo bands that are breaking out these days so the timing's spot on. While Sleep In borrow influence from the Progress, it manages to come off as a breath of fresh air which holds its own as opposed to attempting to follow the IIOI formula and patching up some carbon copy work. Sleep In is its own thing and as much as I liked the Progress, and still do IIOI, Settling is enjoyable because of a catchy, melody-driven framework whose priority is to leave a lasting impression. And better yet, it sets itself apart from past affiliates.
There are flaws but ones which can be overlooked. Some tracks follow the same skeleton as others but not enough to drown out interest. Start-stop arrangements, incessant intricacy on the guitars and a compact, tight sound add a lot to the album. It's more than emo. It has a lot of indie flavor but there's just as much math-rock influence, which doesn't feel wild or loose. It's well oiled and held together in sprawls as the dynamic "Sleep Sound" shows. Off the bat, there's a sense of urgency to the melodic nature of the record. Immediately, the guitars jump out at you -- very flexible and carving so many sounds. Jangly hooks mask a great deal of Keith Badtorff's vocals but he shines through them with the pace varying from low- to mid-tempo at so many intervals. He keeps up really impressively. The album's versatility hinges at times on his clean, soft-spoken tone which keeps in turn an anthemic flow, but his voice complements his musicians neatly. When called upon, they surge with climatic choruses and heavier sections to perfection. Acrobatic riffage may well epitomize Sleep In but even when they get basic, you still connect with the foot-tapping drive and character. Case in point, "Bound To Fold," which isn't that guitar-rich, but you'll find yourself bobbing to its smooth, laid-back vibe. It resonates to the core.
The neat indie-emo arrangement of the record is amplified by the song lengths. Never too long, never too short. Some tracks rehash what others did but they still pan out more memorable than forgettable. While the antecedent works of the Progress felt a bit confined and struggled (as awesome as they were), the offspring seem more mature, controlled and free in their musical styles. Sure some things could have been less flustered and more sludgy but it's undeniable how much punch and power they've packed in their evolution. There's no big fuss about pioneering this genre or flag-shipping this other one when these indie bands distill their sound because it all boils down to this -- unshackled raw spirits colliding at all corners. Cut to "Antisocial Darwinism" and this is the curveball on the record. It possesses an unwavering creative freedom in its experimental and progressive rock riffage which in turn is the perfect foil to the altruistic ballad "Come Closer." There's a delicate balance of aggression and calm in the latter as if to remind you, even when you think it isn't, the energy's always there.
In the closing sections, you sense that bravery supplants itself where the band falls short musically. Slight disjoint kicks in here and there but again, nothing too harmful. I do hope they get a dirtier sound stuck in more next time though. I think it's highly possible too because with this series of tracks, it's obvious that they don't fear exploration. They didn't fear stepping out their comfort zones and musical cages. If Evan Weiss' work is an indication where Sleep In could head, then Settling is a step in the right direction. The path they've started charting here surely signals that there's something much more exciting and much more special than arbitrary potential.