A wide-ranging debut album of rich soundscapes and heady emotions.
Ambient post-rock outfits are growing in number, but Wilsen reached their current sound on debut I Go Missing in My Sleep by beginning with minimalist acoustics and then adding the electronic haze – and you can hear it in the music. Frontwoman Tamsin Wilson has an ethereal, soothing voice, which she pairs with gentle fingerpicked melodies. That dreamy sound is enriched with the contributions of bassist Drew Arndt and guitarist Johnny Simon, Jr., who create swirling electronics around that tranquil base. The results can be anywhere from ethereal to hypnotic, minimalist to bordering on electronic decay. I Go Missing in My Sleep is a wide-ranging debut album that shows the trio capable of rich soundscapes and heady emotions.
Tamsin Wilson certainly makes the most of her vocals, summoning warm operatics akin to Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) as well as wispier folk not unlike Laura Marling. This deeper vocal base is a pleasant surprise throughout the album, enriching tracks like “Final” and “Heavy Steps.” I Go Missing in My Sleep does favor succinct, evocative titles, but the band backs that up with subdued tracks that speak volumes. The core of each of these 11 tracks is fairly simple and minimalist, but the tantalizing joy comes with the inclusion of bewitching, sometimes even miniscule, additions.
Arrangements throughout are sparse, but they nevertheless distinguish themselves with unique instrumentation. The album opens with “Centipede,” a creeping, hushed track that blossoms from its brooding, low guitar depths into an airy finale. Acoustic picking forms a throughline on “Heavy Steps,” “Otto” and “Final,” each with their own unique permutations of stark acoustics. The instrumentation on minimalist “Otto” is so irregular, plucked strings popping in and out, that Wilson’s voice alone maintains the somber tone. “Final” is an altogether different blend of angelic vocals, rapid finger picking and whistling, with notes ascending to a euphoric end.
Elsewhere on the album, Wilsen put percussion and pop leanings on display. The picking on “Garden” takes a backseat to a shuffling beat, moaning synths, statement guitar lines and layered vocals. “Kitsilano,” in turn, sprinkles in reverbed harmonics with its sunny electric guitars. A modestly shuffling beat on “A Parting” ingeniously shifts into the tribalesque and is complemented by guitar riffs that seem to have a mind of their own. From the more experimental to the album’s most accessible, the shift from “A Parting” to “Emperor” is one of the most satisfying here, introducing a meandering guitar and wah-ing synth over a tapping beat.
All these brooding tracks are backed by equally contemplative lyrics. Wilson is thoroughly preoccupied with questions of fate and belonging, and the title I Go Missing in My Sleep certainly conjures imagery of searching for such defining place. Opener “Centipede” sees her envious of the insects adaptability, “I’ve never been/ As fine without an aim/ So won’t you stay the night, dear/ And tell me I belong.” Many of Wilson’s lyrics feature dialogues between similarly inquisitive characters. “‘But what of fate?’ she cried/ ‘Surely there is one who decides/ Which way the wind turns in the morn?’” goes “Final,” only to answer such willingness to cede control with a simple “there is no reason and no rhyme.”
But for all that worrying, “Garden”‘s advice of “Don’t try, just greet it/ Hold the thought of moving/ And we will get what we seize” matches the reassuring soothing of I Go Missing in My Sleep‘s music. The gentle ebb and flow of these tracks perfectly mimics a contemplative slumber, and Wilsen backs that up with songs that chart self-exploration and wistful imagination. She may go missing in her sleep, but there’s enough here to keep her fantasies grounded.