I thought of a friend's brother while listening to Sleep Station's After the War. He went to war in Iraq, serving in the same infantry that stormed Baghdad last spring. Fortunately unlike many others he made it home. I thought about him often over the year or so that he was away, giving me personal investment in the senselessness of war.
I knew about the hundred pounds of gear he had to lug around through the hot, windy desert. I knew he had little food, limited water and, often, no sleep. I knew he was sweaty, tired and scared. But I couldn't tell you the thoughts that went through his head each day as he endured an experience that has likely changed his life forever. He won't talk about it; most don't. And you don't ask them why it's something unspoken that only those who have been to war understand. I guess Sleep Station are taking their best shot at speaking the unspoken.
A timely concept album, After the War makes me very sad for the young men and women who for whatever reason signed a dotted line and, later, went to war. They get lonely, they get hurt, they lose each other and many of them lose themselves. How do you capture the emotional exhaustion of this atrocity? If you're Sleep Station, one fragile tear-jerking song at a time.
For the most part, Sleep Station's music is beautiful, dreamy '60s-influenced power pop, music that makes me think of the Beatles and Big Star. The band plays beautiful folk-tinged melodic rock drenched in brooding emotion if you're not touched by it, you must not have a heart.
After the War opens with the title track exploring a soldier's initial departure for war, in which he mourns the loss of his old life. "As I flew away/ I looked back just to see the ground/ Focusing my vision/ I never had the chance to say goodbye," sings guitarist/pianist David Debiak, his vocals breezy and heartbroken. "My mind's in pieces awaiting the change."
The airy and rollicking '60s pop number "Caroline, London 1940" finds the soldier beneath a sky in which "bombs drop every day," missing his girl. "They can take our lives/ my soul is yours‚ and mine/ I love you Caroline," he sings in vindication, later adding: "Everything looks strange/ Nothing will ever be the same again."
Led by a simple, catchy acoustic riff and backed by cooing harmonies, the stomping "Come Back Again" acquiesces to the inevitable transformation. "Sorry but I am through/ I know that I can't come back again," he concedes. "It's better you don't know what happened here to me."
In the intimate, minimal and acoustic "Burden to You," the singer wonders about
those war hurts more indirectly the family and loved ones left at home,
lonely and scared too. "Your eyes are closed and your bed feels strange/ I guess
heaven wasn't listening to you call out my name/ Your house is empty and not
the same," he sings softly, with a slight rasp. As if singing from beyond the
he later continues: "If you're ever in doubt and falling to pieces/ Just remember
your heart can go as it pleases/ I will answer when you call/ I'm always here
for you after all."
"A Final Prayer 2" sounds as if it were sung from outer space over an acoustic guitar and some occasional notes played on a glockenspiel. "You will see life goes by you so soon," he sings. "Know that I love you/ You will make my heart fill with joy/ I'm just a father who loves his boy/ We don't have to go nowhere/ If you close your eyes/ You will know that I'm here."
Sleep Station do their best to capture the emotions endured before, during and
after war but I wonder what this album would sound like if the words were
written by my friend's brother, who actually lived through some of the fighting.