Starting a new band is always tough. Specifically, starting a new band in the ashes of your former band. Especially if that former band was Underoath. Spencer Chamberlain, one of the two men involved with the Sleepwave project, was the vocalist of one of the (if not the) biggest bands in the independent music world. Not only were they big, but they were trailblazers. They are, essentially, the inventors of the entire genre of melodic metalcore’s infrastructure: good cop/bad cop, heavy verse/melodic chorus metalcore. The creative footprint Underoath left has stood the taste of a decade, influencing bands even in today’s markets.
From the get-go, Sleepwave wants you to know that they aren’t interested in following in the same path Underoath blazed. A piano arpeggio and effect-laden beats lead into a wall of guitars and layers of synths, “Paper Planes” sets the standard for the whole of Broken Compass: big guitars, electronics, and catchy choruses. Sleepwave is much more straightforward from a songwriting standpoint than Underoath — where the latter was focused on staccato rhythms and continually taking the listener to an unexpected place, Sleepwave is focused on writing songs in the traditional sense of the word. The more focused nature of the music can be attributed to it being the brainchild of just two band members — Spencer Chamberlain and Stephen Bowman — originally a studio project. (The band has only recently rounded out with a live band and started touring.)
The major differentiator separating Sleepwave from the legions of other bands playing heavy, radio-friendly rock is the layers and layers of electronics; pianos, synths, reverb, sound effects all run rampant on Broken Compass.
And it works. It’s easy for electronics to come across as overproduced or cheesy, but the strong attention to detail, powerful songwriting and careful placement make for a cohesive style.
Unfortunately, that style is more focused on sounding big than interesting and that’s where Broken Compass loses me. It’s too cohesive. I found myself easily drifting in and out, the big sound and atmosphere blending songs together. That’s not to say it’s forgettable music — so many of these songs are infectious and catchy. The constant wall of sound just numbs you.
There are highlights, though, like the Thrice-leanings of “Rock and Roll is Dead and So Am I” to songs like “Hold Up My Head” and “Disgusted: Disguised,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on either A Perfect Circle album. Toward the end of Underoath’s tenure, the Maynard-in-A-Perfect-Circle influence was coming through strong, and it’s great to hear that sound a little more blatantly on this album. “Through the Looking Glass” is a standout track with its late-era Nine Inch Nails vibe and a huge, anthemic chorus.
Chamberlain’s singing is stronger than ever, and he really shows up here with Sleepwave, opting to have a limited amount of screamed vocals on the album. Lyrically, Chamberlain seems to be processing his more publicly known personal demons — he’s struggled with drugs, alcohol and loss of faith — and many of the songs seem like you’re reading his diary.
Even though Broken Compass has a tendency to be demoted to background music due to the straightforward nature of the songwriting, the standout songs on Broken Compass are definitely strong, and this is a good start to the new chapter in Spencer Chamberlain’s post-Underoath life. It makes for a good listen, but with a little more refinement and surprise, Sleepwave’s Broken Compass could have been great.