Vancouver Sleep Clinic
The E.P., Winter is available via:
The track, Flaws is available at:
This striking Wunderkind has drawn comparisons with the likes of Bon Iver, London Grammar and James Blake. With a sleep-studying Canadian moniker, a cross-generational British influence (and Australian nativity), our hero’s music is causing worldwide effusiveness. On the evidence of his hypnotic debut E.P., it is not hard to see why.
ONE of the most difficult issues facing a new musician…
is separating themselves from the crowd. It is hard enough making it into the intramural walls of music; making a mark and differentiating yourself (from your peers) can seem like a daunting snake pit. During my last review of (L.A.-based duo) The Open Feel, I went into depth with regards the local scene in Los Angeles. Their latest track, Sidewalk Zombies is a number which marks them out as serious future prospects. In the U.S., there are a great deal of acts making their initial moves; each offering up something different and fresh- with nary a few making it across the Atlantic. In the U.K., there is a similar issue arising; acts based in certain parts of the country are finding it difficult making their names known beyond their borders. I have seen a few modern examples overcoming this rule; adept at ensuring that their music is known (and respected) widely; seeping its way to one and all. In a music scene where there are hosts and scores of players across multiple genres, if you are looking to get your brand recognised and adored, then something striking needs to be projected; sounds and music that differs from contemporaries- and stands you apart from the crowd. When I was listening to The Open Feel, they had touches of others; a little The xx in the guitar work; a shade of Chrissie Hynde in their lead’s vocals- yet there was a stark originality and boldness to their movements. In terms of the mass of acts playing out of L.A., I am predicting that they will be amongst the most prosperous; capable of making their way out of the U.S. and making claims as one of the most fervent acts around. Surveyance of homegrown acts such as Gypsyfingers and Knuckle have also compelled my mind. The former’s dreamy blend of ethereal vocals and cross-pollination; their daring and multitudinous sound is something that few other acts offer. In the case of this duo, we are going to be seeing future legends. Their Circus Life album is a bold testament to a young duo, with a lot to say. The latter are another duo, but one whom offer up heavier and more primal sounds. With plenty of U.S. Blues influences, as well as native Rock elements, the Yorkshire twosome are riding the wave of recent acclaim; bolstered and inspired to bring their unique strides to as many people as possible. In the case studies of the aforementioned, there is originality, intention and ambition; they stand apart from their colleagues by being that extra bit louder; something about their music has a qualitative edge that others do not contain. I hope (and am sure) that the future will be prosperous and profitable for these acts, yet I am seeing so many others fall short. Often the music is not to blame, but sheer numbers are crowding them out of the market. In a lot of instances, so many acts are presenting the same type of music with the same sounds, that swathes of (like-minded) artists are finding it hard to grab a foothold. There is a competitiveness in music, that means, unless you have something wonderfully unique and brave to give to the public, then chances are your career will be somewhat short-lived. In a year with an unabated and unregulated music population, it is going to be harder and harder to fulfil this demand. I am not raising the issue as a downer; nor is music a poisoned chalice that indiscriminately strikes- you just have to put some thought into things. A great deal of new acts and talent have spared little imagination when it comes to the bare essentials. Issues and elements such as band/solo name; album/E.P. titles and their online portfolio are often given short-shrift. If you have a lacklustre or generic name, then chances are people will move on to something new. I know you should never judge a book by its cover, yet (with the sheer weight of contenders on the scene), if there is a blandness and predictability to your moniker, then few eyes will stay trained to your door. Similarly, if song and E.P. (or album) titles are homogenous or stale, fandom and longevity will be hard to come by. Nothing radical or mould-breaking needs to occur, yet with a little insight and effort, great rewards can be claimed. All of the newest (and most successful) new acts I have reviewed have clearly understood this golden rule. As well as that, their online representation and spread has been thorough and detailed; compelling, colourful and informative- making it easy for people to find their music and become fascinated. My featured artist is someone whom has also taken the time to work on the small details; as a result, his stock and body of work are being given thorough appreciation; fans are flocking from all around the world- and it appears we may be seeing the rise of a sterling and bright star. I shall come to our hero anon, yet the point of my parable is to provide warning (as well as advice) to any new act. Talent is naturally the most important aspect to consider when making your moves (ensuring that you have it in vast swathes), but I cannot emphasise how crucial it is to ensure your foundations are solid. Over the last few days, I have been looking around for new acts to review; trying to find something striking and different. Unfortunately, I have had to review so many acts, for minor reasons. If a band or act does not have a full biography or not enough personal information, then what am I going to do? Reviewers and fans want to know about the artist, and having a single line of information is simply not good enough. In a social media age, there is no excuse to phone it in or be mysterious. You are not giving too much away by telling us about yourself- where you come from, whom inspires you and what the past has provided. Including some influences, reviews; photos and links to your music should be a given, and I am going to pass over an act if they do not offer this. It a shame (as a lot of great music has been subjugated), but if I am not compelled to probe further, then why would the public at large? An eye-catching name and set of designs do a lot of the hard graft; original song titles and sounds get you a long way, but if you are thinking that mystique and inscrutability are the way to get your name noticed: think again. All of my eloquent theorising and protesting, rather neatly brings me to the case of our Australian hero- whom drew me in with ease.
When looking around for an act that was non-British (just to give me pen a chance to see something new), I searched many-a website; investigated blogs and the Internet, seeking out a fresh and alarming subject. Many were relegated and overlooked because they expected me to fill in the blanks; write their biography for them, and guess do the hard work for them. Our hero’s pages and presentation caught my attention and caused a sense of relief- there is plenty of information and background to get stuck into. In spit of a Canadian-sounding moniker, Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s creator hails from Australia. The Brisbane-born youngster has been enjoying a lot of critical acclaim recently, all salivating over his latest E.P., Winter. Before I delve deeper, here is some biography about the Australian teenager:
Vancouver Sleep Clinic as a name in itself conjures up imagery of long cold winters, of isolation and remoteness and the sometimes self-imposed reclusiveness in all of us as the days get shorter and we move into the bitter months ahead. The adopted moniker of 17 year-old Tim Bettinson perfectly hones in on this visuality and with new track ‘Collapse’ taken from his forthcoming debut EP, the influences of those dark corners inside ourselves interweave throughout his sound. As we draw closer into the winter here in the Western hemisphere, VSC feels like it was designed to be delivered just in time for the onslaught of the colder weather. Taking into consideration that Tim lives in Australia, he set about writing songs for VSC during his winter but what was in fact our Summer – timing can be everything. After months of assembling lyrics and instrumentation from various maths books, notes, whiteboards and bedroom walls, humbly working with scattered cheap microphones, an old laptop and an outdated keyboard – Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s debut EP was born, soaring falsetto vocals built upon progressive synthetic instrumentation to create an ambient vessel of emotional connection. Bearing messages of sorrow, humility and hope above all else – songs are written from the heart alone. Together, let’s create something beautiful.
In terms of new music, we are not hearing too much for Australia. Artists such as Say LouLou have some Australian background, but the likes of Bloods are providing tantalization and resurgence. Their brand of uplifting and raucousness has similarities with the likes of Joan Jett, and leading many critics to hail them as one of the most promising acts of the moment. Courtney Barnett’s Dylan-esque songs are providing the music world with reflection and stunningly literate and memorable music; that which straddles down-to-earth with surreal. Brisbane cousins Black Realm mix grooviness and psychedelia, evoking the spirit of N.Y. Punk majesty of the ’70s. Brisbane female duo Screaming Match have an electrifying brutality and urgency that marks them out as one of the most potent and invigorating acts of the moment. With the likes of The Native Cats, Sky Needle and Go Violets providing ample support, there are at least a few names to keep your eyes on. I guess you have to look hard if you want to uncover the best that is on offer; when it comes to Australian music, we do not hear too much of it in the U.K.- the occasional blog of feature may offer some guidance, but not a lot else. If there were an all-encompassing music website that listed all the acts of a particular nation (arranged by genre and location), then that would make things a lot easier. If it were not for publications and sites such as The Guardian, then we here would not hear of so many great international acts. Vancouver Sleep Clinic is leading the wave of new Australian musicians, intent on making worldwide impressions. The nation is inspiring such a creative flair, because there is not the same sense of balkanization and compartmentalization. A certain freedom and lack of civil war means that the music is a lot more open and all-inclusive. Certain cities in the U.S. and U.K. have rivalries and battling bands; there is often a north/south divide or a sense of clandestine secrecy. Cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are showing the most fervent activity and pioneering, but smaller towns and locales are playing host to some wonderfully vibrant and exciting acts. If your only exposure to Australian music is within Home and Away and Neighbours’ background sounds, then you owe yourself a lot more: investigate what the country has to offer. Although a number of the nation’s best acts are emigrating to the U.S. and U.K., there are plenty of native acts whom are putting their country back on the map. Whilst certain countries get most of the music press, I feel that Australia will be coming back strong; reappropriating cynicism or unfocused eyes back to their shores; and showing us what we are missing. Our hero is amongst the finest that Australia is currently offering, and his talent and artistry is being picked up by the wider community. Brisbane-born Tim Bettinson is not even in his 20s yet, but has a maturity and work ethic that bellies his years; puts him ahead of many of his peers- and sets him out as a man to cling to your bosom. Our hero’s D.I.Y. approach to music has a charm and anachronism to it. Collating notes and scribbled lyrics from notebooks and maths textbooks, Bettinson adjourned to the safe havens of home; assembled old equipment and laptops together- to create his unique and beautiful music. In an age where there is an emphasis of technology and digitialisation of music, it is impressive that one so young has an affection for traditional songwriting; for vintage methods and a more honest way of working (working on a laptop can be so artificial when creating lyrics). It is our hero’s voice that is getting a lot of the attention, and I shall go into more detail shortly. It is clear that many people have a lot of good things to say (about his music), and the songs offered up are resonating with all corners. Here is a selection (granted, a large one) of some of the things being said:
“Vancouver Sleep Clinic has a mysterious sound. It’s chilled out, haunting and darn smooth. It has to be mentioned that this guy is only 17 years old and began this project out of his bedroom. His latest electronic delight is called Flaws and it is quite beautiful. Immediately, images of winter are conjured up whilst listening to the track. Not an Australian winter, with its kind of cold-ish days, but a winter somewhere in Alaska. There it feels dark, cold and you’re wrapped up in a blanket in a log cabin in the woods. That’s how it feels. The guy behind the excellent vocals is Tim Bettinson but it could well be Bon Iver right? This kid can really hit those high notes, giving a gorgeous substance to the sound. It is really something special. Whilst blissfully awaiting the release of Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s Winter EP, we can relish in the haunting sounds of Flaws and only imagine what other moving sounds will come off the release. In the mean time, go relax in bed with Vancouver Sleep Clinic.“
“Vancouver Sleep Clinic, aka Tim Bettinson. Having only released two songs – the appropriately titled Vapour and the delicate Collapse– Bettinson found himself supporting London Grammar on their Australian tour, which meant that his fourth ever live show was in front of a thousand people. Unfortunately a mooted support slot with London Grammar in America has been scuppered by antiquated VISA regulations (basically, the band haven’t been together long enough or something), but the connection to London Grammar, musically at least, is fairly obvious. New single Flaws – the first release from his forthcoming EP The Winter and premiered here – is all about restraint and minimalism, Bettinson’s Bon-Iver-minus-the-smoking-habit vocal floating out over a finger click beat, bubbling electronics and pockets of sun-dappled, meandering guitar riffs.”
“He released his first track “Vapour” a few months ago, which mixes airy elements with the gentle tugs of an acoustic guitar. I’m not one for boxing music in genres but you could describe it as ambient folk, and yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds. In his latest single “Collapse,” Vancouver Sleep Clinic holds on to the acoustics but delves more into synth as he pulls you along on for a short reflective journey. “Collapse” highlights the vulnerability that comes with life’s changes, as VSC repeats “We’ve been outgrown.” The reminiscence of a not so distant, distant past and the retrospective descriptions of lost opportunities spin into a beautiful but sad tale of time gained and time lost. As VSC’s somber voice echoes throughout the track, you’re forced to relax, swallow the comforting sounds, and accept that sometimes less really is more. Vancouver Sleep Clinic has shown that he’s got quite a promising future ahead of him, so keep your ears and eyes open for whatever he puts out next.”
“Only a teenager, Bettinson’s uncanny command of language and sound plays a trick of sorts on the passive listener. A name like “Vancouver Sleep Clinic” suggests what its creator himself had previously professed: music that’s easy to fall asleep to. Admittedly, the soft sound of Winter does allow for fading off into your own world quite easily. Underneath the pretty aesthetics and faultless falsetto, however, lies a treasure trove of insight, curiosity and reflection. Transcribe a Clinic song, and you’ll find yourself poring over seemingly simple couplets, attempting to unlock the meaning of it all. Winter is the child of fundamental experimentalism. More importantly, it’s the brainchild of Tim Bettinson, who possesses the vision and descriptive knack of an overlooking scry. As one of the longest snowy seasons in recent memory enters its final act on the east coast, a burgeoning music career begins to sprout through the frosted ground.”
Potholes In My Blog
“Listening manages to be an immersive experience while at the same time being true ambient music. It sounds slightly like London Grammar mixed with Brian Eno, the former of which Bettinson toured with over their new year’s tour. It’s a truly special first release from such a young talent.”
“The Winter EP from Vancouver Sleep Clinic is definitely no exception. And while musically it may be pleasing to the ear and calming to the soul, if you pay close attention to the lyrics they’re actually some of the most depressing words you’ll hear in your life. Good shit.”
“Winter is worth everyone’s time. The comparisons with Bon Iver are inevitable, but if you can, leave them aside while listening. Tim Bettinson is a boy with personality and his work is strong enough to stand on its own feet. Although making music in very different genres, he and his fellow Oceanic young musician Lorde share another common trait: their works are almost unimaginably good for their ages, and they are sure to impress attentive ears. Tim Bettinson is very likely to soon become a force to be reckoned with. This EP already is.“
“Vancouver Sleep Clinic sounds like the electronic reincarnation of Bon Iver or Sigur Rós. Bettinson combines haunting vocals and captivating ambient melodies. The track “Stakes” is the most mature and well-constructed song on the EP, making it one of the highlights. Other tracks like “Flaws” and “Collapse” are extremely catchy and entrancing. Winter is soothing, and sounds like something that would be played at, well, a Vancouver sleep clinic. Winter is a must listen if you enjoy this particular strain of ambient electronic music.”
“In the “Winter” EP, Vancouver Sleep Clinic explores atmospheric indie-pop. His use of slow moving pads and simple electro drum beats can be compared to groups like The XX and Purity Ring, while his unique falsetto vocal style and melodies lends similarities to Pacific Air and Avalanche City, respectively. Bettinson’s debut track “Collapse” opens the EP with a beautiful song about personal imperfections and accepting that people may grow apart despite their efforts to hold on. The lyrical ambiguity becomes immediately apparent with lines such as “I’d sunk in oceans blue / Now they’re all frozen over”, which are clear enough to express the song’s theme, but vague enough to allow the listener to interpret them for themselves. The emphasis on the line “I’m falling short again” further reflects the pained emotion behind the song.”
The last year or so has seen our hero put the final touches to his E.P., Winter; it is his first big kick in the music world and lays down his intentions, heart and personality to striking effect. With in excess of 12,000 fans on Facebook; add in 1,500-or-so Twitter followers, and it is clear that the music of Vancouver Sleep Clinic is making huge impressions. With youth on his side and a natural talent that is hard to ignore, I am predicting that the next few years will see our hero grow in stature and regard; become more confident and supported- and ensure that we here in the U.K. are more attuned to his mesmeric motifs. I for one would love to hear him perform, as his voice and sound- I would imagine- would sound ethereal and hugely atmospheric (in a live arena); and I am sure that thousands more share my recommendations. In the future, tour dates and an L.P. are distinct possibilities, but for now, the Winter E.P. is gathering huge momentum and praise; reviewers and critics are eager to lend their words and acclamations to this bold and nuanced work; and extol the virtues of our young hero. Not knowing a great deal about Bettinson’s past, I came into the experience with an unbiased and open mind; eager to hear what was on offer- and lend my insights.
Evocativeness and atmosphere are summoned up right from the off of Winter. With sighing and oceanic synths. and electronics, our hero approaches the mic. Begging a tableaux that sees him “sunk in oceans blue.” Whether speaking to a beau, or a friend, I am not too certain; yet the stunning mood that is presented gets right inside your head. There are nods and semblance of London Grammar and Massive Attack (in the sense that dreaminess and emotion are at the forefront) in the electronic coda; with our hero (imploring to his subject) advising “We should have crossed the border“, the soothing and gorgeous sways breeze into your soul. Electronic pulses are studied but hard-hitting; the vocals share embers of James Blake- our hero has a same dusky and masculine falsetto delivery. There is a yearning sense of romanticism and rush in the composition; certain threads bubble and percolate, whilst others strain and sigh. Shades of Overgrown-era James Blake (as well as Sigur Rós) come through, as our hero proclaim: “Because never again/Means none of this at all/Forever pretend/In our shelters we don’t fall.” There is an emphasis placed on the effect and weight of the vocal as opposed to clarity, as sometimes it can difficult to detect some lyrics- as the composition takes over and is at the forefront. In spite of the sonics impeding with the vocals, you are not too worried about intelligibility and decipherability. Our hero’s swooning and tender vocal has its own gravitational field. The pace and presentation of the composition changes as our hero assesses himself and his inner-self (“Falling short again/I’m falling short again/The ranges set so high/And I could never climb/Falling“); events become calmer as the electronics skiffle and patter (joined with subtle hints of acoustic guitar). It seems that our hero is sinking and facing doubts and borders. Maybe accounting the breakdown of a relationship or a sense of solitude, you get the impression that our hero has a particular figure in mind- there is a definite break of spirit and wounded heart to be heard. When thoughts such as “The knowledge that I’ve never known/The garden that I failed to grow” come to roost, you can hear the regret and anxiety in the vocals- the sonic backing emphasises and augments this. Speaking to his parabond, our hero looks back at the sunken wreckage; his voice quivers and seduces as he completes an oral damage report. Looking at the entropy of the relationship and addressing the fall-out, our hero advises (his sweetheart) that when the wreckage has been swallowed, “Maybe then baby, you’ll tell me that we didn’t cling to enough/That we couldn’t outlast the rough.” Like modern idols of electronic heartbreak and cinematic etheralness such as London Grammar, James Blake and The xx, our hero ranks alongside them, yet differs in his presentation. You can hear his distinct voice come through, and although there is Sigur Ros/James Blake outer edges, the core of his vocal is emphatically his; the accentuation and delivery are all Vancouver Sleep Clinic. A more optimistic sense of energy is elicited when “Falling short again…” is unveiled; yet there is a sense of irony. Collapse does what the title suggests; it looks at the injurious and deflating consequences of a break-up; the cessation of a bond has led to a collapsed soul; a dented heart- and a lot of self-reflection. Towards the song’s dying moments, our hero confesses: “On my own/I’ve been outgrown/We’ve been outgrown.” The final line is delivered like a mantra; a truth that is self-evident and destructive, and one that our hero cannot forget. With some layered vocals and tender piano interjections, the final moments are a mix of calm and raw emotion. Whilst a lot of contemporaries and fellow musicians would stick to some well-worn lyrical themes, our hero shows some consideration and personal space; the experiences are all his yet the way he articulates them hints at a literate and pioneering pen- one that has an innate knowledge of the past songwriting masters, and a fond affection for language. It has been said that our hero is a perfectionist; taking ages to finalize lyrics and compositions; ensuring that everything was as effective as it could be. The opening number pays testament to this, and it is a song that overwhelms you with the beauty of the vocal, as well as the evocativeness of the composition itself. Following on from the impressive opener is Flaws. Marked out as a fan favourite, it is a number that offers oblique beauty and some effective word projection. The rush and power of our hero’s vocal comes straight into the mix, and catches you off guard with its urgency. Whereas the opener unambiguously looked at the rubble of a broken love, here there is some (initial) ambiguity; some room for interpretation. With a typically symphonic and heady electronics, our hero starts comes to the mic., offering words that get you thinking: “The weight, I’m gone/In my skin, I’m lost.” Initial impressions give the sense of a young man encapsulated in anxiety and detachment; but perhaps some sexual or romantic undertones are being manifest. Lines flow and link with one another so that there are few wasted moments and gaps; you get carried away in the river-flow delivery that has a sparser backing (than Collapse); with our hero offering food for thought: “Tangled in the bones of this love/Melding to the flow of your blood.” Images of entanglement and entrapment may hint at sexual congress, or else a suffocation of sorts; such is the quality and intelligence of the language, that nothing is clear-cut- the listener can invoke and project their own conclusions. With some upbeat and high-pitched vocal notation (at the start), a sense of winter chill enters the soul; our hero introverts his tongue and lets his demons out. When foretelling “Grace bestowed/But I was shaped with snow/Seasons don’t change/Ignorance remains“, one cannot help but emphasise and root for our hero. Whether he feels that he does not deserve love, or is too young to see the light, I am unsure, but once more some fractured scenes enter the mind. Bold and scenic imagery comes through clearly, and you can almost sense the air of fatigue upon “Ignorance remains“. Finger-clicks and impassioned vocals soon arrive, giving colours to words that are crystal clear: “I need this alone“. At the 0:43 mark, electronic percussion rattle and rolls; a grand and stoic piano line conjoin with wordless vocals; which rise and fall; groan and contort- and seems like a vocal exhortation. With the composition unassuming, yet filled with flavoursome and potent ingredients (slight piano and guitar; moody percussive elements), our hero is looking inward; pain and loss are investigated and picked apart (“The burdens on this chest/The vessel of these words/Sinking under tension/Drew afterthoughts and hurt“). Although it is one of the shortest tracks of the set (3:19) there is so much atmosphere and story covered; between words, haunting and aching sonic parable are presented which not only punctuate the verses, but also instill a huge amount of emotion. Wordless choruses fuse with sparse (yet gorgeous) electronics that get inside your heart and ensure that the song is not easily forgotten. Moonlight piano codas see our hero re-introduce “I need this alone“; his vocals are held and elongated; our hero’s voices rises and almost breaks under the weight of emotion. The tone and sound of the track suggests that it could be used to open an epic Indie film; one which documents a turbulent but memorable road trip, set against a soul-searching and eventful romance. When the final moments arrive, the mood dies down, and the morning’s light starts to crack. It is another tale that not only highlights our hero’s talent for emotive and epic compositions, but completes another compelling set of lyrics; which compel re-investigation and further study. The longest track on the E.P. arrives in the form of Stakes. With a tender and romantic piano opening, one which mixes with acoustic strings and electronic echo, it is the finest intro. of the set (up to this point). Our hero’s voice is calmed yet imploring, offering early words that are memorable, oblique and vivid: “From the lake/Where I lost it all/Stacked on the stakes/Yet you blessed the fall“. In the same way that songwriters such ass Bon Iver, Nick Drake and Sigur Rós mix natural imagery with stunning poetry, our hero shows his talent for wordplay and precision. The first verse has a lullaby quality; the vocal is duskier and more relaxed; yet when the next verse arrives, things change; the vocal pitches up and becomes more wracked and emotive. When it is said that “I guess that I knew I was warned/I left my words in the cold/The things that I built for myself/Castles are tumbling down“; once more vivid images are planted in your mind; as well as hallmarks such as the cold; lonely and empty words, as well as structural decompositions and crumbling. Each is used as metaphors and symbols for loneliness, broken love and regret, which our hero emphasises with a vocal that is tender yet filled with powerful intent. In the line “The first time that I sought for grace” the delivery is more ponderous and moody; weary and masculine; when “But not the last lung I’d put to waste“, the vocal pitch is much higher, and spiritedly delivered- creating an instant mood shift. With some heavy-hearted percussive punches that act as ellipsis, our hero ups the ante; his voice becomes fuller and layered- there is almost a sing along quality to the lines “I’m burning down the stakes/Wash away, wash away.” Caught in the riptide and making sure his words are understood, our hero looks back at the love he had; the shards of glass that lay around his feet. As he is “Fumbling through this jaded book/The hearts I stole, the air I took” he questions his former love and looks at the only mementos that remain (“And now the photograph is all that’s left“). All that is left is to “feed the wolves and empty chests/To break the best.” When the words “I’m burning down the stakes/Wash away, wash away” are brought back, they are repeated; building the mood and is a spectral mantra that is hard to shake off. As well as being perfectly phrased and evoking as much potency as possible (in as few words), our hero is returns to the fold (after a verse break that calms proceedings but still carries a huge weight); offering determined and defiant words: “I never bled for a thousand lies/Just to stem the flow/I never wept over a thousand lives/Just to let this go.” Backing these tortured thoughts is a pulsing and tender electronic beat, that provides a fittingly emotive finale. It is another track that demonstrates our hero’s stunning lyrics and vocals; and offers up another twist in the tale of lost love and contemplation. Stakes is the longest song of the E.P.- and one of the most draining- so it is apropos that the shortest track follows it. The appropriately named (Aftermath) is next up, and is largely instrumental. Whereas the first three numbers have put striking words and vocals up top, the emphasis here is on the composition; a refrain that is at once uplifting and symphonic, and the next delicately gentle. The tracks only words are “Oh lover, asleep at last/Oh lover, it’s in the past/Of dust we rise and dust we part/So bless these lungs and save my heart“; sentiments that at once get you wondering how many meanings are inherent within; but also stir up some clear images and scenes (as has become typical with Vancouver Sleep Clinic). Initially the mood is slow to build, containing ponderous electronics and strings, it is like the dawn breaking; languid yet picturesque. Perhaps nightfall is more fitting, as a hard pulsed electronic beat mixes inside of echoing and sighing swathes; it is haunting and tender at the same time. Soon a piano parable enters (weirdly sounding a bit like To Build a Home); it gallops and springs and acts as a natural evolutionary progression. With hallmarks of The Cinematic Orchestra and Bon Iver, it is a romantic and gorgeous introduction, that acts as a much-needed counterbalance after a lot of heavyweight emotion and moody sonics. The songs lyrics arrive at the end, and are designated with a sense of urgency; our hero singing a noble and plain truth, but also showing some tender-hearted sensitivity as well. By the end of the track, you cannot help but feel relaxed and smile; waiting to see what comes next but pleased to see a new (and classical) edge to our hero. Ensuring that gravity and potency come back into the pallet, Vapour arrives next. At first, Vapour displays a softness and melody that was synonymous with the previous tack; it builds gently and dream-like. With Folk edges and a soothing beauty to it, the track relaxes you and caresses as it plays. Ghostly echoes and thumping percussive pulses soon come into the track, pricking the energy levels and presenting a human heartbeat. The first verse tells us: “This ship was only ever built to fall apart/The oceans that we couldn’t cross/The London Bridge is caving in/Cities melt into my skin/It’s looking thin.” Once more one suspects that romance- and its disbandment- are at the forefront of the track; architectural imagery mixes with vessels and nature; each deployed as metaphors that signify discontent and heartache. Our hero’s voice is reliably striking and aching, allowing the words to make their mark. The rousing and spirited acoustic guitar add an additional layer of beauty, and it seems that all is not well with our hero. Maybe love has gone cold once more; his soul is broken, and he is looking inside of himself. Where “These wooden doors are closed and this prison’s cold“, his heart is a concrete fortress- one that will not let anyone in. With our hero turning blind and starting to break, it is clear that there is little chance for redemption or rebirth. Speaking of “Winter birth, the fires burn into the snow/Surrender to the afterglow“; once more the poetic power and strong imagery projects filmic and sterling sights, but here, it is the composition that wins- once more. Even though the vocal is one of the most committed and stunning on the E.P., the way the composition mutates and changes skin is incredible striking. Skiffling percussion and slow-burning acoustic guitars melts into electronic samples which offer scuttling and rampant scurrying and staccato edges. Our hero’s voice once again mixes sonorous and seductive darker tones with effusive and high-pitched falsetto- sometimes weaving within one another- that provides multiple shades and colours. Towards the song’s conclusion, some optimism or redemptive spirit creeps in. Telling of “What a moment, encountering the dawn/Breathing in the air I’ve never known“, perhaps all is not lost- there may be light shining through. Brining Winter to a close is the swan song, Rebirth (and is the second-longest track). For those expecting an updated version of Hey Ya! are probably going to be disappointed. As we conclude this frosty season, there is still a sense of broken souls; a need to feel better and be born again. The intro. sees soft and tender acoustic tones open up our story; it is a beautiful and soft parable that matches the song title perfectly- it seems like a spiritual regeneration is afoot. With a vocal that is soothing and relaxed, our hero is in thoughtful mood; he claims that he has “been waiting/For the sun to rise up with the dawn“; words are sometimes unsettling, yet delivered in a way that is not foreboding and tormented. Whilst our hero has been sleeping 21 hours a day and experiencing bleeding decay- he makes his words sound strangely romantic. When it comes down to it, there is still that blend of ambiguous and mysterious; poetic and imploring. Our hero sings: “Oh, sweet surrender/Collapse to my knees/Beg and plead/Fill me with everything“; you can picture the knees buckle; the head arches upwards- waiting for emotional absolution. Speaking of leading flocks away, you wonder if a testament of fractured love is unveiling; or else something more spiritual and ethereal. Typical of our hero, there is room for imagination and interpretation; you can vividly imaging what is being sung, yet are never 100% certain what is being referred to. The gorgeous and still vocal that foretells of “Bent and broken vine/Choking at the spine” infuses with the emotive composition; you sense that personal revelation and self-examination may lead to an epiphany- or at least a chance to start over again. Towards the 2/3rd mark of the song, the composition swells and rushes; there is a clatter of percussion and electronics; a huge amount of force and weather whips into the atmosphere. Hardly shocking, considering the E.P.’s closing remarks; the final fit and bellyache as it were- although there are surprises here; something more uplifted. With a current trajectory that sees our hero “starting again/Tearing my flesh/Stripped to the bone“, enough is enough (a revelation of sorts); things have become too harsh and oppressive and there is a desire to recompose his soul. The album’s title coda and most hopeful sentiments come in the form of: “It’s taken the Winter/To find who I am.” As the track comes to the end, and you are caught up in the pace and fervency of the outro. you allow yourself time to reflect and deduce. Perhaps our hero will be okay, but it seems he has decided he needs to change; to make things better and start afresh. The E.P. marks a triumph for its young creator, whom not only manage to display a lyrical genius that writers twice his age cannot match; but the songs are deep, effecting, memorable and nuanced. Each song is contained of huge atmosphere and mood; gorgeous classical tones and pulsating and heady electronic parable. Like heroes Bon Iver and the Sigur clan, our hero has a gorgeous falsetto that is amongst the ripest and most direct out there; yet he has darker and breathier undertones that have a raw masculinity to them- and display his full range. There are some lyrics that are hard to decipher and I have had to rely on MetroLyrics quite heavily, but it is a minor qualm, as you are so caught up in the songs themselves. Winter may be long gone, but with the sun shining and the temperature rising, the E.P. has a timeless appeal that will not see it relegated to colder times- it is relevant all-year-round. Few young artists have such a depth of talent, and it is impressive to see it making an appearance on the debut E.P. I know that our hero would love to come see the U.K. and tour more, and there is going to be plenty of demand. If you are not a fan of the likes of James Blake and London Grammar, then it may take a while to convert you- but it will happen. It is a sextet of songs filled with grace, chilled scenery and surveyance of love-gone-cold. Our hero displays maturity that means he does not descend to histrionics and tantrums, yet has a grown-up and brave defiance to him- yet allows himself to wallow a little. I know that the rest of the year will see more fans and followers flock to his shores; and on the evidence of Winter it is much deserved- a fine achievement for such a sapling talent.
It may be early days and early doors for Vancouver Sleep Clinic, but all signs point towards a career of longevity and prosperity. The music on offer throughout Winter is compelling, swooning, heart-aching and rich: repeated listens and re-investigation are paramount. A couple of reviews of iTunes show how much the music-buying public love the E.P.:
“Such an emotive piece of music, as someone with synesthesia I enjoyed this EP in every way, it takes you on a journey and then brings you back to reality with a better look at what you’ve already got. Thanks for this, this is a music gem .”
“Having heard 3 of the tracks (Vapour, Flaws and Collapse) I was very excited about this EP. This guy has got so much talent, definitely worth a purchase the whole thing is perfect from start to finish. Keep it up VSC.”
I was hugely impressed by the maturity and authority that augments the tracks; how assured and intelligent our hero’s words (and musical mind) are, and what a range there is on offer. The vocals are consistently impressive and stunning, putting you in mind of masters such as Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke (there is a comparable falsetto at work), but a clear sense of personality and passion comes through emphatically. All of the tracks come directly from our hero’s heart, and their personal and individualised messages are not just for Bettinson’s benefit- they can be understood and applied to everyone listening. We have all been through the rigours and hostilities of life and love; all experienced its inequities and hardships- in that way, the songs seem evergreen and omnipotent. In the way that a lot of contemporaries invest no difference or diversity into themes of love, our hero dares to be different. A lot of current musicians (and those past) tend to tread the same grounds when conveying heartache of anxieties; there is a bland and predictable mass of bodies all saying the same things in the same way. Our hero has a flair and creative mind that means he can take well-worn and age-old themes; revitalise and re-infuse the subjects- and instil them with some urgency and freshness. When interviewed by Can You Hear This (last year), he was asked how it finds it being compared to Bon Iver- one of the best and more synonymous golden voices in music today. Our hero stated:
“To be honest, there’s no way I’ll ever be complaining about a comparison to Bon Iver. In my opinion, they’ve produced some of the most beautiful, well-constructed music I’ve ever heard. However, my new stuff will involve a whole new level of creativity. I’ll be looking to emphasis some post-dubstep drum beats and Daughter-esque reverbed instrumentals, whilst still incorporating the Bon-Iverish falsetto vocals that people have seemed to love.”
Although distinct of voice and music, the comparisons or just and not open to hyperbole. Like the U.S. giant, Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s epicentre has a divinely effusive and ethereal set of pipes; those which add emotion, weight and potency to all of his numbers. A lot of similarly aged musicians tend to enforce glib and immature themes; pen songs filled with juvenile delusions and angst- our hero is a step above. Occasionally, you get to hear of some great Australian acts, though I feel that the likes of the U.S. (as well as European nations such as France) are better are promoting it. When Bettinson was questioned on the subject; how he felt about the rise of Australian music, he did not hesitate:
“Australian music has grown incredibly as of late! These days there are so many cool bands, venues, promoters, radio stations, blogs and websites all selflessly willing to see Australian music grow.”
It seems that stations here such as XFM and Absolute Radio would endless spin tracks such as Vapour and Flaws; BBC Radio 6 would put Collapse on regular rotation- and minor quality purveyors such as Radio One would also promote our young hero. The rise in V.S.C.’s social media portfolio, as well as buzz and praise that is being whipped up is going to sees Bettinson’s alter ego become big news, very soon. Having already flown the flag of Australia at SXSW, Vancouver Sleep Clinic is going to see an eventual road to domination. We here have the likes of London Grammar, whom can offer ghostly and spectral vocals and synthetic sonic flair; yet the market is very much open. There is still a huge emphasis on bands and their wares; heavy sounds and directness- we need more acts like V.S.C. to succeed. I am sure that the next year will see plans afoot for an album, and I hope that a U.K. tour is a possibility. The likes of the U.S. and Europe and going to start promoting and playing his music, and ensure that as many ears as possible hear his wonderful mandates. When asked what music meant to him, our young hero told Can You Hear This:
“Music has always been one of the biggest parts of my life and I think my biggest inspiration to start this came from wanting to make an emotional connection with listeners through my music. I’ve always dreamed of playing with the likes of Sigur Ros, Daughter, Bon Iver, James Blake etc.; so I guess I finally decided it was time to take action.”
I guess that these dreams are not too far-fetched. It may take a year or so (more), but I can envisage our hero supporting the likes of Bon Iver very soon. You can always tell- from the first movements- whether an act will sink or swim; how far they will go and how long they will last. The fledgling signs are promising, indeed; Winter shows a young man in love with music; but whom has plenty more to say. Over the next few years we will see our hero’s name become more familiar and omnipresent. Hear what Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s debut E.P. has to say…
AND let it get underneath your skin.
Winter Track Listing:
Standout track: Stakes
Follow Vancouver Sleep Clinic: