CD Review of Sleep at Your Own Speed by Butcher the Bar
Recommended if you like
Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Iron & Wine
Butcher the Bar:
Sleep at Your Own Speed

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


n what is destined to go down as one of the most perfect album titles of the year, Joel Nicholson – also known as Butcher the Bar – has taken his debut collection of gently multi-tracked acoustic ballads and named it Sleep at Your Own Speed. It’s an example of truth in advertising that would make Ralph Nader proud, because listening to these songs for any extended period of time is liable to induce sleep at any speed. Playing this album while operating heavy machinery should be against the law.

Having said that, Sleep at Your Own Speed is also quite good. It’s true that it operates at one and a half speeds – the opening track, “Get Away,” has something like a tempo, and sounds vaguely like Nick Drake fronting the Byrds, but most of the rest of the album is library quiet and pillow-soft. Nicholson deserves that much more credit, then, for keeping Speed from drifting off into Dullsville; these songs might be quiet, and they might all draw from the same small bag of musical tricks, but the album is still never less than enjoyable. It sneaks up on you, really – within 15 minutes of cuing it up for the first time, you’re as likely as not to roll your eyes and make a joke about not knowing Sufjan Stevens had a cousin in Manchester, but listening to it is like lying under a warm blanket on a rainy day. Or napping on a hillside on a sunny spring afternoon. Or pretty much any pleasurable activity that ends with a nice, quiet nap, actually.

Albums like Sleep at Your Own Speed are difficult to review; not only is it hard to come down from the fence about whether or not Nicholson deserves to be docked for his limited range (and his willingness to cop so obviously from his influences), but there’s a ton of records that sound like this right now, and it’s getting tough to assess their merits objectively. Still, no matter how crowded the pack he’s joined, Nicholson is very good at what he does. To put things in context, Butcher the Bar might be less adventurous than Sam Beam, but these songs are more fun to listen to than much of Sufjan’s output – and damn near everything the insufferable Conor Oberst has ever released. If your tastes run to the quieter, acoustic end of the spectrum, feel free to purchase Sleep at Your Own Speed without reservations. Just don’t play it on any long drives.

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