The problem with an artist or scene becoming unexpectedly popular is that in its wake, a host of inferior imitators inevitably spawn. After Nirvana broke through in the early 90s, it appeared that anyone wearing plaid in Seattle could get a record deal. More recently, the success of Britpop led to many a lame duck, and the legacy of Coldplay and (albeit, briefly) Travis going stratospheric at the turn of the Century would appear to be Snow Patrol and similarly pallid “indie” of that ilk.
With all this in mind, please welcome The Kissaway Trail: Denmark’s answer to Arcade Fire. Well, that is, if “answer” means “infinitely substandard version of”. On Sleep Mountain, The Kissaway Trail’s solution to a lack of inspiration is apparently to ask themselves what Win Butler would do, and ham-fistedly attempt to replicate it. Unsurprisingly, such an approach does not a good album make.
From the very beginning of track one, SDP, it becomes clear that The Kissaway Trail have their eyes and ears firmly set on the boxes labelled “anthemic” and “soaring”. As well as Arcade Fire, there are shades of Frightened Rabbit as SDP gently chugs along, always threatening to break into something more attention-grabbing but never quite doing so. Aside from a momentary change of pace and some bells, there really is nothing worth remarking on. Unfortunately, that seems to be a fair summary of Sleep Mountain in a nutshell.
The vocals on Sleep Mountain are somewhere in-between Tim DeLaughter and a eunuch being strangled underwater. The lyrics are little better, full as they are of half-ideas and meaningless phrases. Perhaps this is too harsh on a band who don’t have English as their first language, but lines such as Beat Your Heartbeat’s “If you could change your heart, if you could change your words, if you could change, never like they say” are, frankly, laughable, and more suited to The Eurovision Song Contest.
To give The Kissaway Trail their due, they’re not shy when it comes to incorporating a multitude of instruments into their songs and they occasionally have their moments. The start of New Year recalls Doves’ Snowdon and cute glockenspiel is well utilised on Friendly Fire. At times, Sleep Mountain could be the work of a more mundane Grandaddy, or perhaps a restrained Polyphonic Spree (if you can imagine such a thing). Alas, all the bands which are reference points or potential comparisons are far more interesting and multi-dimensional than The Kissaway Trail.
In fact, it wouldn’t be an enormous surprise if it were the case that Sleep Mountain had been created by focus group. The Kissaway Trail could have a large whiteboard in the centre of their headquarters, which just has the word “epic” in the centre. Sadly, Sleep Mountain would probably be better if it had been designed around the word “Eric”. For the most part, the songs featured here follow a strict formula: slow start, add vocals, remove most instruments for sensitive vocal harmonising, embellish with a few frills, then repeat for about three minutes longer than your listeners’ attention span. The main exception to this is the percussion, where the drummer seems to be the only band member interested in doing something different. That is, unless you count the album’s only unexpected chord change and a 12/8 time signature in Philadelphia.
Sleep Mountain isn’t entirely unenjoyable; its two main crimes are that it’s too safe with its simple chord patterns and unimaginative riffs, and that it’s too in thrall to the records that have inspired it. It could do with a large dose of urgency and inspiration, and even then that would probably only be enough to mildly pique your interest. Listening to The Kissaway Trail is an ultimately hollow experience and one that seems pointless in a world where there is so much better music in existence.