New band of the day – No 565: Sleeping States

This singer-songwriter doesn't strum his guitar, instead he uses samples and found sounds to create mellow and melodic music

Hometown: Bristol.

The lineup: Markland Starkie (vocals, instruments).

The background: The term "singer-songwriter" covers a multitude of virtues and sins. Yesterday's new act, Bibio, was a musician who writes songs and then proceeds to sing them, and so you could be forgiven for calling him a singer-songwriter, but Jack Johnson he was not. Sleeping States – which, as with Bibio, is an alias, a trade name that sounds like a band but is, in fact, a solo artist – is so against the idea of the conventional troubadour singing his bleeding heart out to the accompaniment of a rickety acoustic guitar, that he came up with a series of self-governing principles at the outset of his career, just so that he didn't lapse into bad, generic habits. "When I started Sleeping States I gave myself a set of rules because I had a real problem with singer-songwriters," said Starkie, who has released music prior to this, even if none of it was properly distributed. "I find the whole thing cheesy beyond belief." The rules he laid out for himself were simple: no strummed acoustic guitars and only basic instrumentation. The results, heard on the forthcoming In the Gardens of the North, which was recorded in a wood in Bristol, are about as far removed as Bibio's album is from the bog-standard glorified buskers that Starkie clearly feels shame the genre, while at the same time being thoroughly listenable, and even, in places, quite captivating.

Again like Bibio, Starkie was classically trained, graduated to metal, and has now, on In the Gardens ..., revolted into near-silence (he was even in noise-pop outfit Kaito, who were signed to Mute). He uses samples and found sounds, and it was doubtlessly put together using modern technology, but it sounds organic. He might not strum his guitar, but you can certainly hear him plucking it and bending the strings gently as he warbles enigmatically over a variety of timbres, tones and textures. There are elements of folk and of electronica, although this isn't folktronica. There's a drone with whistling on top, a near-instrumental mood piece, a pacey number with a motorik beat, one that veers towards straight indie, even one that sounds like doo wop. But mostly it's mellow and melodic even if the tunes tend to meander. He's had, he says, "the odd Coldplay comparison that makes me cry inside" but rather prefers it when people say Sleeping States remind them of Smog and Sonic Youth. He sounds like a postrock American to us, which he'll probably love considering how much he digs Jim O'Rourke, David Grubbs et al. And if you can get past the literary references, the eulogies to WG Sebald and allusions to Kafka, Borges and Benjamin Britten, you'll find a record that's easy to enjoy and maybe not as far removed from the singer-songwriters Starkie loathes as he imagines, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The buzz: "Hypnotic and riveting, with Markland's voice floating atop gorgeous guitar motifs and weaving mesmerising harmonies."

The truth: This could have come out on Drag City or Touch & Go in 1995, praise indeed.

Most likely to: Go camping.

Least likely to: Go busking.

What to buy: In the Gardens of the North is released by Bella Union on 17 August.

File next to: Grizzly Bear, Tortoise, Bibio, the Moonglows.


Tomorrow's new band: She Keeps Bees.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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