An Attempt to Discuss Riceboy Sleeps Without Sounding All New-Agey and Stupid

Because I like a challenge, I will now attempt to articulate why I like the Riceboy Sleeps album (I’ve sometimes heard the artist referred to as Jonsi and Alex, the names of the two dudes in the band – one of whom is in Sigur Ros – but I first saw them listed on the Dark Was the Night comp as “Riceboy Sleeps” and that’s what I’ll call them. If they don’t like it, well, they probably won’t do anything about it because, if this music is any indication, they are two exceedingly mellow people) without sounding like some sort of mystical new-age weirdo who likes to lay in bed listening to CDs of flutes and whale-fucking on repeat. And I feel like I have to put that kind of disclaimer up because Riceboy Sleeps (the eponymous album by the band that consists of Jonsi & Alex) is a really lovely album that is almost entirely unlike any other thing I like at all. If this is your first time reading Bollocks!, you might want to skip around the archives a bit; you’ll find that liking subtle, beautiful music is not a common event ’round these parts.

But I do like Riceboy Sleeps. I also like Jonsi’s other band, Sigur Ros – though the latter does not necessarily dictate the former. After all, Riceboy Sleeps makes Sigur Ros sound like the fucking Ramones. I’ve heard the album described as “ambient”, a word I don’t like to use when discussing music because, for me, it conjures up the image of music that is intentionally boring – but I suppose, in terms of strict dictionary definitions, I’ll allow that there are some ambient qualities to Riceboy Sleeps. Pitchfork’s biggest dickhead, Ian Cohen, bashed the album for sounding “indecisive” about how ambient it is, which… no, wait. I’ll let you decide. Here is the exact quote from Cohen’s review: “But what struck me as most frustrating about 20 minutes in was just how indecisive it sounds about its ambience…” I tend to trust that people who have bothered to find Bollocks! in the massive pile of porn and…well, whatever else the internet has on it, are pretty astute readers. So how fucking stupid is it to accuse an album that you yourself have declared “ambient” to be indecisive about how ambient it is? That Cohen is so hung up on how on-again/off-again Riceboy Sleeps gets with the ambience says more about the way he labeled the album than it does about the album itself. But, to work at Pitchfork, you have to give everything an irritatingly pretentious label (like “post-rock”, another meaningless label that makes me want to go on a killing spree. I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? Rock music still exists, so it can’t mean music that came after the end of rock music. So does it mean any music that was made since the birth of rock music? And if so, isn’t nearly everything post-rock? And isn’t rock itself “post-blues”? Seriously, if someone out there can provide a substantive definition of post-rock, I’ll stop complaining about people using the phrase. Wait. No, I won’t) so Cohen is really just protecting his job there. Cohen also complains about the album being too loud to work as background music and, as you read the review, you sort of get the feeling that Cohen’s inability to categorize Riceboy Sleeps is really the reason he dislikes it so much.

But maybe he just never found the right context in which to listen to it. I first listened to the album in my car, which is entirely wrong for an album like this (and potentially dangerous – you might nod off while driving with music like this on). Then, earlier this fall, I happened to be house-sitting for one of my bosses when I popped the disc into his home stereo system, turned the volume up pretty loud, and let the sound spill out into the empty house. That turned out to be the right move. Now, I’m not saying you need a big house in the hills and a nice stereo to enjoy Riceboy Sleeps. I’ve since blasted it in my tiny apartment and on my headphones and found it very satisfying. What you need to enjoy Riceboy Sleeps is volume and time. It’s the kind of album you have to let wash over you. And I know that sounds kinda like new-age hippie bullshit, but I assure you it’s not. People who are familiar with the works of Gavin Bryars (whose beautiful Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet features a cameo by none other than Tom Waits, whose music has never failed me yet) will probably get what I’m talking about here. There’s a certain amount of stillness required to take in Riceboy Sleeps and, when put in the proper context, the album is stirring and gorgeous. Is it a little pretentious? Yeah, but so is Sigur Ros and I’m willing to forgive so long as the sonic beauty outweighs the pretension.

Of course, I am not daring to suggest that anyone who puts on Riceboy Sleeps at top volume and really tries to digest it will like it. Far from it. Probably very few people will really dig this record – I’m guessing people who are more into mainstream pop music and who read words like “ambient” and “post-rock” for the first time ever in this review will probably find the album kind of dull or annoyingly slow-paced. But there’s real treasure to be found in it for people who are able to give it a chance. I hate telling people to listen to an album nine or ten times before they decide if they like it and I’m not going to tell you that about Riceboy Sleeps. You’re big kids now, you can figure out for yourselves if you want to listen to an album more than once. But I can say with all certainty that this album is deserving of that first time through your speakers.

Next time, I’ll get back to basics and review a nice ambient/no-wave/pre-punk/ record (“shoegaze” is a real genre – it’s for people who like to do heroin). As soon as I can find one.


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