Ben Grenrock needs his eight hours.
If there’s one thing that’s even better than the obliterating caress of sleep, it’s those precious moments between sleeping and waking where anything seems possible. The body pleasantly sated into stillness; dreams so close you can almost grab them, like little cartoon canaries born after you’ve been whomped on the head by Morpheus’ pillowcase. It’s this liminal state that beatsmith Sleepdealer whisks you away to on his newest tape Oasa. Once you’ve got it bumping, no alarm clock, no angry call from your boss will be able to wrench you away from that sweet spot between consciousness and oblivion.
Sleepdealer started making beats two years ago and in that span of time he has made a fucking lot of them. My iTunes boasts seventy-seven tracks by the Santa Barbaran producer, and I didn’t even follow his SoundCloud account (which is littered with one-off nuggets of greatness) until today. While it would be impossible to amass such a large catalog without some serious work ethic and drive, listening to Sleepdealer it’s clear that part of the reason he’s been able to drop a twelve-song album, a fourteen-song album, and a seven-song EP within the same calendar year is that—like the beatmaking heroes of the mid-late ’90s and early 00’s (see: Pete Rock, Ant in his heyday, pretty much everyone who ever produced for Tribe)—Sleepdealer is a purveyor of a minimalist aesthetic.
Often, an entire Sleepdealer beat isn’t comprised of more than four perfectly distilled elements working in zen-like harmony to deliver maximum groove with the subtlest effort. His preternatural gift for how to chop and deploy samples, how to arrange ethereal patterns of notes over crisp drums, makes dressing up his beats with track after layered track irrelevant.
The drums, bass, and typically straightforward sampling stand strong on their own, buttressed only by tasteful effects and impeccable phrasing. Thus it seems pretty feasible to imagine Sleepdealer cobbling together gems like Puff Meditate’s “sodium” or Yerba’s “sleep” in a couple short hours of manic, somnambulant inspiration, stacking up beat after beat out of a few choice parts within a single turn of the moon.
But that’s not to say that his tracks sound rough or haphazard. Each is laid out impeccably, carrying a distinct emotive theme and inducing involuntary head nods with hypnotic regularity. Whether he’s dishing out sliced and diced samples or his trademark bouquets of Fender Rhodes notes, whatever is being used as a melody to compliment the drums and bass is placed in the exact spot it ought to be. All of this just sounds instinctual rather than meticulous. Like he could do it in his sleep.
Oasa is easily the dealer’s most immaculately composed record. The various piano lines on “peace” are woven together like an expensive Swedish garment. The transition from intro to actual song on “words w/ hm SURF” moves with mesmerizing and inexorable smoothness; the sampled snippets of lighter flicks, an exhale, and a single wave breaking are placed so well that they become like one-note-long drum fills.
On a more macro level, the album itself has more of a narrative arc than many of his previous releases. Its first half carries a pervading sweetness; tracks like “beba,” with its anime giggles and carefree flute, threaten to induce spontaneous cavities, and follow-up “starfox” provides a constellation-gazing comedown from the sugar high. Around the middle of the tape this bubbly innocence begins to fade into an almost painful nostalgia on “peace.”
The sentiment crescendos on “breathe w/ flavors,” a track that owes its emotional haymaker more to Joe Hisaishi and the film Porko Rosso—from which the song snags both its piano line and its inherent longing for the halcyon days when Italian sky pirates still ruled the Mediterranean—than to Sleepdealer. Still, the producer’s innate talent shines in the way he both channels the power of Hisaishi’s theme, and the space he creates in his composition to let the sample develop on its own.
The following track, “loved,” is something of a pivot point. Sleepdealer introduces an edge in the song, something that’s been one of his trademarks on past releases but that I’d been missing on Oasa. It’s a hint of darkness, of strangeness, here mostly caused by the vocal sample’s words, “Though it was better to have loved him at all.” The repetition of the sample begins to make it seem as if the singer isn’t quite sure if she believes herself. A certain anxiety emerges as the words are sped up progressively faster and faster until they attain more than a touch of paranoia.
Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? The jury’s still hitting snooze on that one, but the next track, titled “lost w/ Smoke Trees,” is one of Oasa’s best, so maybe yes?
The lumbering darkness Sleepdealer has used so well on past records is back in full force on “lost w/ Smoke Trees.” It’s that slow tossing and turning of when you’re almost too tired to finally pass out, repurposed to elicit chip-on-the-shoulder swagger rather than frustration.
This feeling endures for the final third of the album, fully realized on “21.” “21” is Oasa’s apex. No contest. At once comforting and unsettling, familiar and far out, its smooth Fender Rhodes arpeggio violently panned from ear to ear gives the sensation of being swaddled in a duvet made out of David Lynch’s mind. In classic Sleepdealer fashion, it somehow manages to be gentle and visceral simultaneously.
Oasa wraps up with “sorry”—which Sleepdealer probably should be, as an otherwise incredible composition becomes a bit of an eye-roller do to one heavy-handed Ocarina of Time sample plowing over others so much more tastefully arranged—and then finally with “rolling up l’s”. This last track subtly balances almost every emotion evoked on the album, proving an apt end to Oasa and encapsulating Sleepdealer’s pervading aesthetic: that of Hiayo Miyazaki directing an episode of Samuri Champloo where all the dialogue has been replaced with snippets of your favorite rap lines and the katanas traded in for oversized blunts.
Oasa is fantastic, but it’s also just par for the course for everyone’s favorite slanger of sleep. What it lacks in the satisfying grit sprinkled liberally throughout his other releases, it makes up for with the balance of your favorite pillow and the symmetry of a well-made bed. Don’t sleep on Sleepdealer. Almost his entire catalog can be purchased for $4.20 on bandcamp; not only can you cop an overflowing treasure trove of tunes in exchange for the price of your caffeinated beverage of choice, but the amount charged to your PayPal account will remind your tired mind of the ideal pairing for Sleepdealer’s music—which I guess, depending on the strain, can be something of a dealer of zzz’s itself. Time to drift away to dreamland.