appleby's 'While You Were Sleeping' Is a Siren Call to Home
Photo: Annie Rhodes Kane
We're all trying to find our way home. For many of us, this is a fictional place: a dream state of infinite love and understanding, the warm embrace of family and friends, where every laugh is mirrored and every tear quickly patted dry. Regardless of how this may have been denied to us, we share an ineffable understanding of what home is, its siren call to return, shedding our fears, pain, and neurosis in the process.
If there could be a musical equivalency to this journey home, appleby's While You Were Sleeping is like a map, a travelog of prior experiences embedded into the journey of a Black man, a spiritual hymn to healing. Encapsulating all the hurt and healing of the past year but moreover diving deep into the vulnerabilities left unresolved - the struggle with male vulnerability, specific to Black identity in particular, and the foils of love that finally found their appreciation. In its totality, While You Were Sleeping is a self-taught lesson in "being present, in the moment and participating," a love letter to young Black men finding themselves.
The first steps of this journey may have begun in a bedroom of his youth, in Elgin, Illinois, a room to which he credits "becoming an artist," while FaceTiming his love interest several states away, adjacent to the Atlantic. But the real foundation was in the months leading up to it. Upon settling into L.A. full-time, purposeful on his path to being an artist, he hit a wall. A creative's dread, a loss of direction, a footing without traction. Despite the weight of Instagram proverbs, the origin of a quest is rarely one bodily movement; it is the coaxing realization of your path from an external source. In this fashion, it was a lonely DM from a fan who spoke about the power of appleby's music, how it helped her through a tough time, brought her back to herself, gave her hope. The best validation of where we are heading is who we meet on our path, the faces that light up, the laughter dealt across a room, and most often just listening. And so the pilgrimage begins...
Musically, While You Were Sleeping is emotionally aerobic, a poetic exercise that pulls you across a spectrum of feelings with brilliant precision. The deliberateness of the composition speaks to another of appleby’s talents, tennis. A former high-level player, you can hear the physics of creativity that game allows for, always bound to laws but rewarding open-mindedness and spontaneity. Opening with "You're My Home," a beautiful near-ballad about the evocative comfort of a relationship, the breadth of the EP is put on immediate display. Layered pianos and staccato hi-hats are all balanced with a lyrical harmonious presence that perfectly display appleby's vocal range. The second single off the EP, "Enough," follows as a more uptempo gesture of faith in a partner once under-appreciated, balancing a zesty polyrhythm with longing, loving lyrics, crescendoing into a beautiful backdrop of a distorted gospel singalong.
Not satisfied with any consistent genre definition, "Heavy Metal Spaceship" is an angsty, flange-pumping song about a nightmare that left appleby floating into space, looking back down on our round globe wondering if kin and kind will remember him (this dream state must have telekinesis properties as it leaves you feeling like you've had this dream too). The original single that started the party, "Half Life" is a song about feeling lost and without oxygen, balanced in a pleasant awkwardness over a drum 'n' bass rhythm that gives the feeling of asphyxiation in the most dance-affirmative way.
"Navy Blue" is arguably the most poignant narrative on the EP, a turbulent lonely plea from a young man trying to engage with his father, who was riddled with drug and alcohol dependencies. appleby's lyrical talent and depth of emotive appreciation are delicately balanced here, a song more soothing as it plays out. Finally, it’s all bookended by "Heat," where a sultry, chunky hi-hat-laden beat plies through an eternal plea to be understood, to have mercy, on a melody so strung out it feels like the reckoning of the EP itself.
Where will While You Were Sleeping land appleby amongst the meritorious storytellers of this generation? For all men like him, and for all the women struggling with men formerly like him, I hope it lands him at the front. For appleby has so perfectly eroded that male legacy of being given everything but nothing at the same time, the illusory power of strength left shattered by lack of communication and self-concern. Difficult to convey as much as it is to come to that realization but even more difficult to pronounce in such a beautiful work, one that is so effortless in its ease of listening, you can feel the wounds stitching themselves shut with each lyric, note, and beat. Heal up and get home everyone, this journey is our measure of love, and a lot has happened while you were sleeping.
Listen to While You Were Sleeping below: