Sleep Cycles is the Sophomore release from Alt Hip-Hop Producer Neat Beats. The new release retains the classic, meticulous shine demonstrated on earlier albums while steadily reaching into the wide expanses of psychedelic, shoegaze hip-hop. From the opening string and voice sampling, Sleep Cycles is distinctively ‘neat beats’- trip hop, piano, stoner-soul music with a delicate feeling.

neat beats (Photo: Jon Blaj)
neat beats (Photo: Jon Blaj)

Sleep Cycles is the (lovingly awaited) follow-up from Cosmic Surgery (2012). This debut release, Cosmic Surgery, was an explorative, predominantly instrumental trip-hop/IDM creation that screamed passion through incredible sampling and careful production. Sleep Cycles is by no means a departure into the unexplored, rather an album similar in genre but thematically very different. While Cosmic Surgery lended itself to heavy voice sampling to create a surrealist painting of the modern world, Sleep Cycles feels invariably more like an exposition of ability- Musical muscle flexing. D-wave suite, for example, acts almost as an expose of ability. With careful manipulation of both rhythm and sound you hear a single sound clip suddenly transform into an entire track of aetherial melancholy, with tonal and rhythmic shifting that should irk anyone musical, but is somehow executed in a way that leaves you craving more. Sleep Cycles, to me, felt like a portrait of Neat Beat’s abilities put forward in a conceptual album that, while progressing from the sound of Cosmic Surgery, doesn’t depart from it entirely, leaving you pre-emptively familiar with the sound but suddenly exposed to a new take on what is an incredibly unique style of production. There is a subtle homage to the scientific overtone of Cosmic Surgery in “The Destroyer Of Worlds“, with seemingly incongruous string and piano underlying a track focused around Oppenheimer and the bomb.

For me, Neat Beats always sounds like space. 90’s boom bap and gangsta are pulled, twisted, re-imagined into something sheltered from hard hood culture. It departs, in many ways, from the realism and intense emotion desired by many musicians, instead settling on not apathy, but passivity.

Neat Beats does not ‘leave you to fill in the blanks’ like a lazy student- it encourages you to fill and colour the minimalist sound with what pleases you. This creates a very accessible, contemplative, almost private kind of sound. I think the trick to this is in the vocal samplings, which, at least when sampled in a singing manner, only appear on hooks. The deconstruction of so much of convention highlights what makes Neat Beats unique; unadulterated creative freedoms.

It’s a complicated album, and in many ways I can see how people might criticize it; either for being too similar, or too different. To me, it strikes a balance. Sleep Cycles is ethereal, philosophical, and ultimately an intensely deep album.

It keeps itself easy to listen to, yet rewarding to explore. A favorite release of this year, to me.

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