On October 12th, 1987, Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook released the sublime Sleeps With the Fishes on 4AD. Perhaps the most underrated record in the classic 4AD oeuvre, Sleeps With the Fishes is a gorgeous, ephemeral album that serves as a sister record to Clan of Xymox‘s Medusa, released in 1986.
The album was originally conceived to be Nooten’s first solo record after a split from Clan of Xymox. Vocalist Ronny Moorings would soon revert the band’s name to Xymox and re-enlist Nooten a few years later, pushing the band into more commercial territory before eventually parting ways with founding members. In the interim, Nooten was much more interested in exploring classical and ambient music as an outlet, a passion that shaped the brief ambient interludes on Medusa. While preparing his first solo record, label head Ivo Watts-Russell would suggest that Nooten collaborate with Michael Brook, a Canadian guitarist and composer signed to Editions E.G.. Brook’s debut record Hybrid was released two years earlier, and featured collaborations with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Brook experimented with guitar feedback drones, a technique that would be used with great impact on Sleeps With the Fishes just two years later. The results are truly special, combining Nooten’s delicate and melancholy melodies with Brook’s guitar textures.
In addition to several new compositions, Sleeps With the Fishes also draws upon several motifs explored by Nooten in Clan of Xymox’s earlier recordings. “Equal Ways,” one of the band’s earliest tracks, appears here in a more delicate form, as does “After the Call” and “Theme I” from Medusa, the latter which was re-named “Clouds.” This track is one of the most stunning on the record, featuring percussive synth textures and a newly recorded vocal track.
Sleeps With the Fishes also features several additional 4AD alumni, including designer Vaughan Oliver, producer John Fryer, Dead Can Dance percussionist Peter Ulrich, violinist Gini Ball, and vocalist Alison Limerick, who performed on This Mortal Coil’s Filigree and Shadow (1986) and Blood (1991). Nooten, Ball, and vocalist Deirdre Rutkowski would re-record “Several Times I” on Blood, breathing new life into the otherwise more obscure and mysterious opening track. Michael Brook would also contribute guitar to Xymox’s 1991 record Phoenix, the last record featuring Pieter Nooten and Anka Wolbert. Brook is still currently active, having moved into soundtrack/score territory. He has since won several awards and accolades for his score contributions. Nooten has remained active as well, exploring both dance-oriented tracks and classical soundscapes across a series of solo records and collaborations. He is currently working on his latest record, his first since 2013’s Haven.
As it stands, Sleeps With the Fishes may be slightly less celebrated than some of the label’s best known acts, but has proven incredibly influential over time, a perfectly crafted record that is haunting, mysterious, and stunningly well-executed. As the autumn chill creeps in, turn down the lights and give this record a spin, letting these melodies wash over you.
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