The Lees of Memory are a three piece out of Nashville, Tennessee, and Sisyphus Says is their recently released debut, an 11 song double record, the vinyl of which is available in a variety of colors (my version is blue). For those of you who didn’t get the benefit of learning classic mythology in school, or who were asleep or disinterested while it was being taught, Sisyphus was a Greek king who was kind of known for being a big pain in the ass to the gods, constantly fooling them or gossiping about their secrets. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well, and when Sisyphus died Zeus made sure he got what he had coming, forcing him in the afterlife to struggle to push a boulder up a hill… only to see it roll away and back down again just as he gets it to the top. And so he has to do it all over again. And again. And again. For eternity (religions and myths seem to love the idea of eternal torment or struggle… seems a bit excessive to me personally, but what do I know). Constant, hard, repetitive, and ultimately pointless is the task. It’s pure unrelenting punishment. So I suspect if we had the chance to talk to Sisyphus, he’d have some things to say about soul crushing hopelessness.
For the record, I did not like this record the first time I played it. It was too much. Too much sound. Too much modulation. Too much to take in when I was just trying to chill out after work. But I played it again today when I was a bit more awake and energetic and enjoyed it. My knowledge of/exposure to shoegaze is pretty limited, probably consisting solely of having listened to the Icelandic band Oyama and seeing them live a few times, so I don’t really have any frame of reference. But what I can tell you is this – musically The Lees of Memory are dense. As in the music is a wall of sound, as relentless as Sisyphus’ task. There aren’t quiet spots, and it sounds like every instrument is making an effort to be heard during every single moment. These aren’t guitar sounds were you can differentiate the notes… this is a sonic paintbrush smearing a thick layer of oil paint over the canvas in all kinds of colors. Even the vocals seem to spread over the song with syllables that are held for long periods.
The opening track, “We Are Siamese,” captures the essence of the band, working as a branching off point for the other songs. Some are slower, some are faster… some are louder, some are softer; “We Are Siamese” is the center, the hub of Sisyphus Says. It’s relatively slow moving, methodical, intentional in its sound. Some later numbers open ithis up a bit – “Open Your Arms” could very easily be a later day Sugar Ray tune, and if you stripped down “Not A Second More” just a little you could imagine the Foo Fighters doing it, especially with its catchy chorus. But frankly it’s the slower, more mellow numbers I like best, probably none more than “Don’t Part Ways,” a guilty pleasure with beautiful singing and pitch changes, the kind of song that makes teenage girls swoon. Meanwhile “Landslide” is pure psych with it’s trippy effects, hypnotic music, and soothing, atmospheric vocals. The Lees of Memory explore a lot of musical space that exists around their core, full sound.
There’s a lot to like on SIsyphus Says. I do still find myself getting worn down and tired by the sheer range of sound that takes up every available element of space. I imagine that in listening to this in the future (and it will be in the rotation, at least for a bit) I’ll probably limit to one of the two records per listening session, keeping it to five or six total songs.