Folk rockers have a penchant for discontent. Bob Dylan’s switch to electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival both amplified and diluted his politics—the former because louder, the latter because his sound itself resembled that of more commercial rock bands.
Saintseneca find themselves engaged in a similar dialogue fifty years hence. Their new single, “Sleeper Hold,” resembles The New Pornographers, breaking from their heavier work on last year’s Dark Arc to produce a song that’s paradoxically catchy and avant-garde. Saintseneca craft their tonal palette from a cosmopolitan coterie of instruments (balalaika, mandolin, and dulcimer, et al.) and their verses from concepts in the philosophy of mind. Just as hearing anti-war sentiment on the radio was less common before Dylan’s sound shift, Saintseneca, on “Sleeper Hold,” employ a tonal sift to illustrate the radical questions that everyday life always already poses.
“Sleeper Hold” is folk rock par excellence, with a steady kick drum backing literate lyrical content that gives way to a snare beat and group-sung harmonies in the warm, sweet chorus. The listening experience is so pleasurable that missing singer Maryn Jones as she sings, “Heaven is a chemical / swimming laps ‘round the bowl of your skull / and wrapped up in your subtle frame / keys to the kingdom lie in wait” would be easy. In a statement to NPR, bandleader Zac Little writes that,
“Sleeper Hold” is a pop song about the physics of consciousness. What is a dream made of? What is the thingy-ness of thought? Where does the substance of perception converge with the perceived?
I submit that outside those listeners recently out of philosophy classes, such questions are daily considerations for most in the same mode as they appear in “Sleeper Hold”: encrypted in a life that feels, if not safe, then at least familiar. To pose them in an accessible way is not a dilution of style—it’s authenticity.
Streaming below, “Sleeper Hold” is the lead single from Such Things, due via Anti- on October 9.