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Record Review - 1 December 23 2000

Though the signature sound of Athens' Japancakes — pedal steel plucked over a backdrop of instrumental tranquility — has garnered them significant critical attention, it's only one of the musical approaches heard on their second full-length recording, The Sleepy Strange. Since beginning as a 10-piece ensemble known to drone away at one chord, the group has incorporated members with a cross-section of musical backgrounds, from pop and indie rock to honky tonk and classical. The result, seemingly a cacophony of influences, has come together for an overall pleasant bout of tonal exploration. For The Sleepy Strange, the ensemble — pared down to six pieces: guitar, bass, keyboards, cello, pedal steel and percussion — offers a collection of songs that capture the essence of what made the '99 debut If I Could See Dallas and this year's Down the Elements EP revelatory while bringing the group's vision further into focus. Songs such as "The Waiting" and the title track illustrate subtly shifting musical environments that recall the music of Tortoise and the Dirty Three, while the pedal steel arrangements add the extra element of Americana. "Vinyl Fever," though, sheds the trademark twang to embark on a 12-minute hypnotic groove that once and for all lulls the listener into the sublime dreaminess of the sleepy strange.