Perhaps with Sleep critics will finally see this producer in a new light. The Last Step moniker has previously seen Funk eschew his beloved breakbeats for frenetic, hardware-based acid constructions; Sleep draws on a similar timbral palette but pushes things into a far more muted, soporific soundworld. According to Funk, these nine tracks were made while he drifted off into sleep, loops left running as he lapsed into unconsciousness and back out again: part production exercise, part relaxation therapy.
It shows too: not least in the track titles, many of which take a pop-science-via-IDM approach to their subject matter: "Somno," "Rohypno," "Microsleeps." Far from a conceptual gimmick, though, the implications of this unusual process seem to be woven into the music itself: oscillators drift woozily out of tune, hovering on the edge of perceptibility; crisp drum machine hits are submerged in a murky, spring reverbed haze. The kick drum and tom hits in "Somno" are softened with the subtlest distortion, as if thudding gently against a pillow; "Lazy Acid 3," cleaving closest to the acid house conventions that underpin this album, nonetheless feels more bleary-eyed than jacking, its 303 sequence outlined in faint, illogical arcs and whirls.
There aren't really any standout tracks here per se—only a minority make it past the four minute mark, and most feel like well-formed sketches rather than fully-fledged compositions. But taken as a whole, Sleep is a compelling and eminently relistenable proposition—as the cover art seems to suggest, it's like some New Age sleep-aid tape from decades past, designed to be played as you drift into hypnagogic torpor.
Admittedly, there are points where Funk strays into the po-faced—"Cimicdae," in particular, has a density that begins to feel like turgidity. But, at its best, this music has a fragile optimism to it—or rather a smeared, foggy quality, an ambiguity of tone that perfectly suits that irrational, fragmented mind state characteristic of the wee small hours. Perhaps—contrary to the image of the breakcore auteur who's had his day—young producers could still stand to learn a thing or two from Aaron Funk.