In a year where the rest of his band released the thoroughly uninteresting Painting With, Josh ‘Deakin’ Dibb stepped out from under the shadow of the Animal Collective in 2016 with a fantastic solo release, Sleep Cycle. The album provided us with a glimpse of perhaps the bands most overlooked member working alone, and allowed us to see exactly which elements of Animal Collective’s sound he has had his hand in over the years.
The five AnCo albums that Deakin has contributed to are, interestingly, both the bands quietest and their most frantic albums. He played on Campfire Songs and Feels, but was also present on records like Here Comes the Indian, Strawberry Jam and Centipede Hz. That duality is evident on Sleep Cycle, which is a swampy blend of warm, psychedelic folk and busy psych jams. The album calls back to different points of Animal Collective’s discography, but it never feels like it does so without bringing something new to the table.
Opening the record is the gorgeous ‘Golden Chords’, a sparse track that finds Deakin playing an acoustic guitar through heavy reverb against a backdrop of muted bongos and nature recordings. We can hear crickets chirping and the faint murmur of a car’s engine, providing an inviting and soporific backdrop to Deakin’s mellow playing and singing. Much like the other members of AnCo, Deakin is not the most technically gifted singer in the world, but what he lacks in technique he makes up for with personality. His vocals on Sleep Cycle are plaintive and soothing, and his lyrics are full of thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom that always catch my attention:
Please stop repeating your terror, you choose what you see
It’s always what if and why not, man – you gotta just be
Simplify, define your goals and watch them grow
Be your own true self, the you that I know
Sleep Cycle is an album that resulted from Deakin’s extended trip around Africa, and it feels in that way like a journey of self-discovery. I really get the sense from this album that Deakin is trying to figure out his place in the world, and I’m happy to be taken along as a passenger every time I put it on.
That isn’t to say this is a lengthy or conceptual album, though. The record clocks in at a modest thirty three minutes and six tracks, with two of those tracks being more like interludes than actual songs. It helps, then, that the four lengthy songs that make up the bulk of the album are of such a high quality. ‘Just Am’ is a swirling, neo-psych jam full of panning synthesizers, sitars and pianos with some really impressive production and sound design – the track sounds more like the effort of a full band working together than one man.
‘Footy’ is most akin to Strawberry Jam/Centipede Hz, and contains some frantic drumming and squelchy synths that constitute the albums loudest moment. And closer ‘Good House’ brings us back into psych-folk territory that recalls the second half of Feels, with some sticky drones and enveloping basslines that wrap around your ears wonderfully.
Sleep Cycle might not be a long album, but it is nevertheless full of highlights. While I think there was room for Deakin to expand on some of the ideas here to create a more substantial and cohesive record (and I think he could have cut out the interlude tracks, which don’t really add much), he has come out with a short but sweet release that reminds us what made early AnCo so strange and so vital. While the band at large seems to be heading into progressively more predictable musical territory, the Deak is pushing on into the psychedelic realm with conviction. I’m interested to see where it takes him next.