Sleepwalkers - Brian Fallon
Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Honey, ain’t this life a pretty little dream?
Written by Ida V. Eskamani
I clearly remember the moment I met The Gaslight Anthem. Almost a decade ago, I sat outside a concert venue for hours to secure the perfect spot in the pit, anticipating a lineup custom-made for my angsty teenage spirit: Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, and Thrice. This young Iranian-American girl had been raised on the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Googoosh; but in high school, she realized the full potential of punk. This show was everything I thought I needed, but there was a fourth act that would raise the stakes. I didn’t know who they were, but till this day, my instincts lead me to never miss an opener.
They catapulted on stage with a wicked assurance; a clear purpose and undeniable presence. They were punk in execution: feet stomping, heads banging, and amps blaring, this band was unapologetic, authentic, and delivered their set with furious intensity. Still, they did not sound like the rest. Their guitar lines twinkled like stars and their lead vocalist embodied a raspy soulfulness. In between breakdowns, this act was singing about classic cars, movie screens, and ferris wheels. They were romantic, nostalgic, and goddamn were they tragic. They were the Gaslight Anthem, and this was the tour for their breakout record, The '59 Sound.
I still cannot believe my luck to have caught this band during this moment in their history. And though these Jersey punks left an impression, they left my universe as fast as they came. Six years later, I finally deep dove into the Gaslight Anthem’s discography, and that of their vocalist and lyricists Brian Fallon. Once I began, there was no turning back. Through the triumphs and tribulations of characters like Matilda, Elise, Lily, and (oh, my, my) Virginia, Fallon was about to soundtrack the widest grins and hardest cries of my foreseeable future.
On his second solo release Sleepwalkers, Fallon demonstrates his own evolution as a musician while embracing the heartland rock ignited a decade ago. Stylistically dynamic, the record maintains a distinct lyrical theme drawn from its title “Sleepwalkers,” referencing our dreams, nightmares, and mindless rituals. Fallon’s blue collar charm reverberates as the listener reunites with old, and meets a new set of characters: Elsie and Lilly; Stacy and Rudie. In classic Fallon style, we know ourselves better through their stories. Through this lens, the record navigates simple pleasures lost and found, as well as mortality, isolation, and redemption. Ten years since Fallon’s breakout record, Sleepwalkers fulfills our greatest expectations.
Fallon’s lyrics often speak to themes related to not quite fitting in, and the closeness forged in shared struggles. “I just want to find somebody designed / With the same old electricity humming” are the kind of lyrics we crave from Fallon. He delivers on this track and throughout the record.
Motown-inspired “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven” introduces the record with finger snaps and fingerstyle, a wonderful departure from anything else you will hear this year. Reassuring a disheartened soul, Fallon vows “If your prayers don’t get to heaven / I’ma keep them safe for you.” Like much of the record, this tune swings and sways, it's designed for a dance. “Forget Me Not” follows, and my friends, this song is a treasure. First and foremost, find yourself a partner who says your name the way Fallon exclaims “Stacy!” on this track (you deserve it). The opening riff chimes as the lyrics contemplate with urgency simpler times lost, precious moments taken for granted, and mortality. Though subdued, an organ provides tempo, further adding to the funeral imagery. Though the beats are uplifting, this is a sad song. As the lyrics contend, we’re “Playing melancholy songs / That somehow made us feel a whole lot better.”
“Come Wander With Me” provides a change of pace. Like a lighthouse’s pulsing signal, a piercing riff guides this track. This is a ballad for the working class heroes of the seaside, striving for an existence beyond the cards dealt. Maintaining the record's theme, the harmonies read “When it’s hard to sleep / I can bring you a dream / My baby, come wander with me.” The record features two acoustic tracks, “Proof of Life” and “See You on the Other Side,” both gentle odes to unconditional love, while acknowledging life’s fleeting nature. “My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)" is a track with irresistible swagger, launching with a confident roar. It too references mortality, vividly describing deathbeds and contemplations of suicide. The song welcomes struggle with strength as Fallon asserts “And I've lost so much more than I ever had / Now my name is the night / Honey, color me black.”
This record plays homage to Fallon’s past, as well as music legends. Just as the Gaslight Anthem honored the late greats in “Miles Davis & the Cool” and “Once Upon a Time,” this album recognizes an icon in “Etta James.” This track shines when Fallon belts with heart-wrenching passion as the lead guitar weaves high and low. In moments that light up your heart, the Beatles’ Abbey Road medley is referenced in “Forget Me Not,” and The Who along with with Bob Dylan receive recognition in “Her Majesty.”
Fallon’s heartland roots find solace on this record, however so do new sounds and techniques. "Watson" opens with the twang of slide guitar, and "Neptune" propels into a resounding guitar solo unlike anything we have heard from Fallon. “Little Monsters” leads with organs evocative of Elvis Costello, while “Sleepwalkers” features a phenomenal jazz ensemble. The title track is fantastic and earns extra attention. Fallon’s lyrics often speak to themes related to not quite fitting in, and the closeness forged in shared struggles. “I just want to find somebody designed / With the same old electricity humming” are the kind of lyrics we crave from Fallon. He delivers on this track and throughout the record. The spirit of this album is revealed with a simple and sincere closing question on this song, “Honey, ain’t this life a pretty little dream?”
Sleepwalkers is Brian Fallon at his best; hopelessly romantic, tragically realistic, and yearning for something beyond these breakdowns. Just like that show a decade ago, this record doesn’t sound like the rest. Soul, doo-wop, motown, country, and punk find a home alongside Fallon’s signature sound as he addresses mortality with a quiet optimism and steadfast resilience. This record is infectious, with back-to-back earworms that will touch your soul in all the ways you won’t be prepared for. Ten years on, Brian Fallon’s music continues to move us-- and I still never miss an opener.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.