By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2007
Well, it was worth a shot. After almost ten years of promises, delays, leaks and rumors, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s trip-hop side project Team Sleep has finally released its eponymous debut. It’s an immensely listenable record, filled with chopped, tumbling drums, snaking vocals and guitar lines that are at once lush and spare. Tracks build toward agreeable climaxes, like the aimless noodling that makes the end of “Your Skull Is Red” shimmer, or the thumping, sinister coda to “Princeton Review.” In the context of the album, every track “works,” building on the established mood and fulfilling its individual promise to maximum satisfaction.
There’s a problem, of course, and that’s that this is a fucking trip-hop record —- nothing more, nothing less. Anyone who’s heard “Be Quiet and Drive” recognizes that Moreno is a talented dude, and the Deftones’ progression from nu-metal facelessness to alt-rock elder statesmen is a testament to Moreno’s talent and taste. But the band’s relevance is waning; Team Sleep was an opportunity for Moreno to follow his muse to something new, to further explore the hip-hop dabblings introduced on White Pony and the ‘80s influences that have swooned beneath the surface of all the band’s best work.
And in a way, Team Sleep does follow this muse, but who could’ve expected the wench to lead them to such a dreadfully boring place? This album should’ve been a thrilling success or an abject disaster; instead, it’s a passable fuck record. (Seriously, this shit is gonna soundtrack the conception of a million future Morrissey fans.) Which is fine —- I’m supposing the new Common record doesn’t quite work the same way with goth kids —- but consider this opportunity blown. Team Sleep is a snore.
Team Sleep (comprised of Moreno, guitarist Tom Wilkinson and DJ Crook) draw from a limited palette, alternately channeling Moreno’s old band (“Blvd. Nights,” “Live from the Stage”) and Mezzanine-era Massive Attack (pretty much every other track). Friends stop by: Mary Timony, the ubiquitous Melissa auf der Maur, the unnoticeable Mike Patton. But apparently no one was powerful enough to sway Team Sleep from their pursuit of mediocrity. Each track lumbers by, full of ideas and emotion and elaborate drums but without a single hook or memorable riff. It’s kinda like a giant walking robot that can’t blow shit up.
At least opener “Ataraxia” gets it right: over an insistent, sinister beat, Moreno croons outside his minor key comfort zone, hitting notes of clear-eyed hopefulness over a descending guitar line. Gutted grand pianos search for the song’s human core beneath a layer of synthesized strings, and the entire song is over in three minutes, a fleeting glimpse at what Team Sleep could’ve been. Late-album experiment “King Diamond” is another standout, a sleazy, minimalist drumfest, with Moreno shouting orders like a drill sergeant conducting a robot orgy. By the end you can practically smell the post-coital cigarette.
But vivid images like these don’t pop up often on this woeful little record. It’s sad, because Moreno and Co. succeed in so many minor areas. Indeed, to a certain type of person, Team Sleep must represent a dream fulfilled; it’s just unfortunate that this type of person is a fat thirteen year-old in a Slipknot t-shirt. The rest of us are stuck with the textbook definition of disappointment, an altogether limp exercise in drum programming. Because while Team Sleep may occasionally sound like the soundtrack to a high-budget porn flick, it’s still an impotent little album.