Music review: Sleepy? No, Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s debut EP is a dreamy offering of six tracks

Heartbreak provided the inspiration for Nicki Minaj’s (above) latest album, The Pinkprint. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Heartbreak provided the inspiration for Nicki Minaj’s (above) latest album, The Pinkprint. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Vancouver Sleep Clinic, aka Tim Bettinson, may well be a name to watch this year. -- PHOTO: VANCOUVER SLEEP CLINIC
Vancouver Sleep Clinic, aka Tim Bettinson, may well be a name to watch this year. -- PHOTO: VANCOUVER SLEEP CLINIC

As the dregs of 2014 are shaken off, what promises, what riches await the world.

Step aside, Lorde. Here's one more youngster from the Oceania to lift the spirits: Vancouver Sleep Clinic, aka Tim Bettinson, the 18-year-old Brisbaner who may well be a name to look out for in a hopefully brighter 2015.

Last year, I had mentioned his singles alongside releases by other Australians Chet Faker and RY X; and as everyone prays for better times, his debut EP Winter makes for opportune listening in this chilly, wet weather while one curls up in bed.

Ethereal synths shimmer, and his falsetto, keening but never self-pitying, floats through the night, beseeching, dreaming of a warmer clime ahead.

The most obvious point of reference for Bettinson would be America's Bon Iver, but that would be lazy.

You will never mistake Bettinson for the former, once you have immersed yourself in this six-track offering.

He belongs to a special class of independent-minded musicians including Britain's East India Youth and America's Baths who sound spectral-futuristic.

It's as if they have travelled from ancient times to a faraway era in human evolution. They are interstellar.

Armed with vintage instruments - an old laptop, a basic keyboard, microphones scattered in his home - Bettinson weaves a cocoon you feel privileged to have access to.

Vancouver Sleep Clinic - so named as the guy imagines his project to be "the type of atmospheric music that people could fall asleep to" - is the antidote for frazzled executives too busy to take a pause.

It isn't soporific. Instead, it resensitises.

Songs such as Flaws and Collapse wash over you, lapping at your toes, carressing, tingling and, other times, unsettling you with a tug or a pull.

Appropriately, the lyrics are full of elemental allusions. "What a moment, encountering the dawn/ Breathing in the air I've never known/In my glory bowing out to the crowd/Returning to the ground," he sings in Vapour, wise beyond his years.

It's a perfect demonstration of gravity and grace: his falsetto sliding into a higher register, then coming down to rest.

Synths echo, swiftly followed by a fleet-footed drumbeat, before fluttering like butterflies.

It's the prospect of beauty realised.

True beauty, however, can only be appreciated through strife.

The song Stakes moves through lonely guitars and synths that ebb and flow.

"I'm burning down the stakes," he sings of darker times, wounds unhealed, a baptism of fire.

Rebirth, too, exemplifies the whiz's mastery of pace. A softly strummed guitar heralds a mist of gleaming synths, hovering above like an awakening.

"I'm starting again/Tearing my flesh…Leaving behind/Breathe like a child/It's taken the winter/ To find who I am," he sings, laying his heart open.

A piano tinkles, drums gallop, and a sudden nimbus of glitches ends this sojourn of discovery on a high, the sun momentarily blinding each and everyone.

What dreams may come? What would his debut album sound like? This year may bring a brilliant surprise.

stlife@sph.com.sg

Albums of the week

ST 20150101 KCSOUND01QCAH 945043m

INDIE/ELECTRONICA

WINTER EP

Vancouver

Sleep Clinic

Self-released

****

HIP-HOP

ST 20150101 NZPOP01 945078m

THE PINKPRINT

Nicki Minaj

Young Money/Cash Money/Republic Records

****1/2


RIGHT ON THE MONEY

Heartbreak often makes good material for artists. On American rapper Nicki Minaj's third studio album, it proves to be her moneymaker.

The notoriously brash, straight-talking rapper, who broke up with her long-time boyfriend last year, lets her guard down, right from the first note. Introspective and melancholic, she delivers knockouts on All Things Go, The Crying Game (with Jessica Ware) and the winner, I Lied, about putting on a hard exterior to protect herself against being hurt in a relationship.

Even as the 32-year-old fast-spitting feminist goes all confessional (she hints at an abortion about 16 years ago and how family members treat her differently now that she is famous), she does not shy away from talking about sex or sexuality, flipping the typical male hip-hop misogyny on its head.

Risque yet powerful, On Your Knees (with Ariana Grande) has her laying down the rules to a submissive man pleasuring her. Meanwhile, Beyonce guests on the self-explanatory Feeling Myself, which mirrors the singer's recent bold exploration of her sexuality on her own eponymous album.

Minaj often does herself an injustice by putting out cheesy, often-too-poppy songs to earn the approval of the mainstream crowd. A song such as the lyrically weak - though annoyingly catchy - Anaconda just makes passers-by not take her seriously as a rapper.

At least radio-friendly tracks Trini Dem Girls and The Night Is Still Young will easily get electronic dance music fans excited.

Minus her campy alter egos such as Roman Zolanski, a blond homosexual male, and wacky outfits including candy-coloured wigs of every shade, Minaj here is raw, unmasked and, most of all, on the money.

Natasha Ann Zachariah