"IT STARTED as a way not to die," says Hart Gledhill of Portland's Sleeping Beauties. "It started as a way to kill time from diarrhea, from Hot Pockets, and not vomiting."
While poetic in its disgusting flourishes, the nihilism of Gledhill and Sleeping Beauties is no put-on. Their new self-titled debut is a bleary-eyed, teeth-grinding, drug-fueled document of sleepless nights and wasted days from the dish pit to the grease pit, the flophouse to the gutter. It's a political screed from the stepped on and the stepped over, the vital punk record America needs to hear but won't be able to stomach.
It's also a sentimental reckoning—inspired, haunted by, and dedicated to Gledhill's father Blake, who died last year.
Gledhill remembers "watching Mets games and hanging out in the hospital. Holding his hand. And feeling his hand go cold. Watching [Mets pitcher] Bartolo Colon 'roided up and doing great and feeling my dad cold and leaving. Fuck you. It's done."
Around that time Sleeping Beauties were becoming more than just another of the innumerable lost recording projects. It began with Gledhill and Rob Enbom, formerly of Eat Skull, with a clear division of labor: "I write the words, you play the guitar." They were joined by Eat Skull's Rod Meyer (guitar), Rifle's Neil Everett (bass), and Chris Biggs (drums). Like Gledhill, who fronted the Hunches, a glorious and notorious garage act of the '00s, Sleeping Beauties offered Enbom and Meyer a fresh start after Eat Skull's third record fell mostly on deaf ears.
The Beauties spent last summer with engineer Justin Higgins at Old Standard Sound, with a budget and a mandate for an LP from LA's In the Red Records. The result is loose, raw, and pounding garage rock that's both economical and confrontational. With top-notch analog equipment and matching know-how, Higgins adds heft and attack to the Eat Skull foundation—the peeling, pulling guitars of Enbom and Meyers. There are vamps, stomps, and pop that's gnarled, aggressive, and, occasionally, wistful.
Then there's Gledhill.
With his father's death fresh and festering, the sessions provided an essential outlet. He channeled what he was taught, from "chopping down trees and throwing baseballs and punching people in the face—whatever you got to do to be a human being. Helping people up and when they need it and then pushing them down." Essentially, what it is to be punk. Driven by the band's performance, the studio's fidelity, and the moment, Gledhill wrote and rewrote furiously, hoping to deliver something worthy. The results are wild, gripping, and deeply literary—hobo poetry at its best.
"Meth" is a super-charged, flittering, plinking run through the addict's cycle. In "Hands Across America," Gledhill stumps for "blowjobs for the poor" and "welfare for the perverts." "Addicted to Drugs" is a sing-along-worthy anthem for the wasted class. All together now: "Gonna have to face it we're addicted to drugs!" "Merchants of Glue" is tender, a moment of reflection, where Gledhill "wash[es] the grime outta my toes" and cashes his check "to pay your rent." Shifting time signatures in and out of a waltz, the tune is bookended by a golden drone, upbeat guitar jabs, and snappy pocket drums. On "'50s Hair" Gledhill speak-sings to a feverish, shouting boil, a tornado of frustrated vengeance.
The record is a staggering achievement, yet there's no telling how long the Beauties will last as a band. The pounding Gledhill takes during confrontational live performances—"floor punk," as he calls it—is admittedly unsustainable. On the other hand, when skimming cream from the gutter, he and the band have no other choice.
"I've washed dishes long enough and I'm not Alex Chilton," Gledhill says. "I'll never be him. He should never wash dishes and neither should I. Neither one of us should. We should both play music."
"That's what this band is," he adds. "It's fucking survival. Survival of the oldest. We're not going to die. Were fucking cockroaches, man."