Justin Elswick
ZoŽ Johnston Jody Quine Caroline Lavelle Roberta Carter Harrison
Kirsty Hawkshaw Joanna Stevens Kristy Thrisk Coury Palermo
L   A   B   Y   R   I   N   T   H   I   N  E         H   E   A   R   T

artists (L-R): Justin Elswick, ZoŽ Johnston, Jody Quine, Caroline Lavelle, Roberta Carter Harrison
Kirsty Hawkshaw, Joanna Stevens, Kristy Thirsk, Coury Palermo
click on images to visit official websites | best viewed in 800 x 600 minimum | all images used with permission
interviews, reviews, and coding © Russell W. Elliot 2009 | last updated 31 August 2009

Sleepthief is the electronic/vocal musical project of producer/composer Justin Elswick. Originally similar to Balligomingo and Delerium, Sleepthief combines pulsating rhythms, sonic string textures, synth vibes, and beautiful female vocalists to create an exhilerating listening experience. Sleepthief's latest offering is an cohesive yet eclectic twelve track collection that has clearly taken the project's music up a notch.

This feature includes a review of Sleepthief's second album Labyrinthine Heart and incorporates interviews with Justin Elswick as well as all eight of the album's vocalists and co-writers. Learn about the artists' backgrounds, how they became part of Sleepthief and the making of the new album. Photographs of the artists are included within their interviews. Links to the interviews and our album review are found below.

Labyrinthine Heart features the vocal work of Jody Quine, Caroline Lavelle, Kristy Thirsk, Kirsty Hawkshaw, Roberta Carter Harrison, Coury Palermo, ZoŽ Johnston and Joanna Stevens. Click on the links below to read our interviews with each of the vocalists. Each will open in an individual window surrounding the main page. Our exclusive pre-release interview with Justin Elswick is especially insightful.

Link to Artist Interview Sleepthief Tracks Sung
Jody Quine "Labyrinthine Heart" "Fire King"
Joanna Stevens "Here I Confess"
Coury Palermo "World Gone Crazy" "Reason Why"
Roberta Carter Harrison "I Know There's Something Going On"
Kirsty Hawkshaw "Skimming Stones Reprise"
Kristy Thirsk "Cut From The Fight" "Reversals"
Caroline Lavelle "Rainy World"
ZoŽ Johnston "Kind Of Magic" "Reason Why"

The expansive sound of Labyrinthine Heart is the product of almost three years of production and countless hours of lost sleep. The end result is a compelling album, like The Dawnseeker, that beckons to be heard. Engineered again by Israel Curtis, Labyrinthine Heart is sure to garner attention of fans of angelic vocals, sublime electronica and celestial soundscapes alike. Vic Levak (Balligomingo, Viia) contributes guitar work to Sleepthief's new album.

The music is rich and varied, ranging from the Enya-esque sound of "Here I Confess" to the Palmero-Johnston duet "Reason Why" and the rocking texture of Sleepthief's cover of "I Know There's Something Going On." The album includes the first male sung track by Coury Palermo. Sleepthief has again composed a moving and powerful debut album that showcases the mystery and beauty of the female voice.

  Justin Elswick
Justin Elswick (Composer/Producer)
Photo © Sleepthief 2006

Justin Elswick

Justin Elswick may be an anomaly in the music industry--a full-time attorney who has somehow found the tenacity and creative inspiration to create a lush and innovative albums under the Sleepthief moniker. Cultivating his deep love of epic, transcendent-style electronic / worldbeat / ethereal music and collaborating with his wish-liist of amazing vocalists, Justin has since forged two of the most breathtaking debut albums in recent memory. Learn more in our all new interview.

Originally from Southern California, Justin became obsessed with music at the age of four when his parents bought him a Fisher Price record player for Christmas. Although his parents were unable to afford piano lessons, Justin would always find a way to play with his grandmother's old piano. His love of music also translated into various DJ gigs during high school and college. However, it was not until age 19 that Justin finally taught himself the rudiments of music theory and songwriting.

Although in love with music, Justin also focused on his formal educational pursuits. After obtaining his B.A. degree in History, Justin moved to Dublin, Ireland where he studied for and was awarded a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Dublin, Trinity College. Upon returnining to the United States, Justin attended the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.

Since graduating from law school, Justin has worked as an attorney in Provo, Utah. His practice areas include intellectual property, commercial and business transactions, and appellate work. For the last several years, Justin has also written numerous reviews as a music critic for Musical Discoveries. It is through his work with Musical Discoveries that Justin became acquainted with many of the esteemed vocalists who appear on the Sleepthief albums.

While there will certainly be comparisons drawn to other female fronted electronica music, Justin does acknowledge his predecessors and establishes his own unique sound on his journey of self discovery. Sleepthief has created his own niche and unique sound-from the expansive and exotic to Celtic flavor; from jazz and trip hop to full-on drum and bass--he's designed his masterpiece based on how he feels. People will like the music or not based on its merits. If fans of Balligomingo and Delerium like his music, great! The only thing certain is a modern day Renaissance man with an impressive body of work wrapped in the Sleepthief package which speaks for itself.

Album Review

Labyrinthine Heart CD Cover
Image © Neurodisc Records 2009

Justin Elswick has assembled seven stunning female vocalists and a new male vocalist to accompany his electronic arrangements on Sleepthief's second album. Labyrinthine Heart (Neurodisc Records (USA) NRO 32102, 2009) has twelve varied yet consistent tracks that clearly show an evolution from the project's debut album The Dawnseeker.

The album clearly shows an evolution in Justin's songwriting, influenced by his listening pattern since the last album, his own creative development and the space he left the vocalists to interpret the music.

Vocalists Jody Quine (who contributes two tracks), Kirsty Hawkshaw, Kristy Thirsk (who contributes two tracks on this album), Caroline Lavelle, Roberta Carter Harrison, Coury Palermo, Joanna Stevens and ZoŽ Johnston, have elevated Labyrinthine Heart to an even higher plane by contributing exquisite singing in Sleepthief's Utah-based studio.

Sleepthief's first duet--and the next single from the album--entitled "Reason Why" is sung by Coury Palermo and ZoŽ Johnston. Our artist by artist review follows.

Joanna Stevens: Known for her work with Solar Twins and 91 Tales, Joanna Stevens crystalline vocal work opens Labyrinthine Heart with multitracked harmonies in "Here I Confess." Her vocal work and the rich, sweeping arrangements evoke almost instant allusions to Enya. The rich orchestral soundtrack-like arrangement of "Ariadne" (The Dividing Sea) provides an outstanding foundation for the layers of Joanna's dreamy vocal work. As a result of her contribution to this album, expect a run on the Solar Twins album.

Coury Palmero: "World Gone Crazy" is the upbeat and rhythmic track Sleepthief's first male vocalist. Palermo's voice is angelic yet powerful. Layered vocal harmonies work well with the pulsating electronic arrangements. The instrumental breaks in the track are tremendous. Sleepthief's first duet, "Reason Why" sung by Coury Palermo and ZoŽ Johnston, is a tender ballad that works really well. Their voices are extremely complementary and glide atop a rich arrangement.

Kirsty Hawkshaw: The reprise of "Skimming Stones" originally released on the Sirenes compilation is graced by Kirsty's crystalline solo vocal against a crisp electronic arrangement. With instrumental allusions to Enya's music, the vocals span the singer's range and layered harmonies provide an elegant texture to the track.

Jody Quine: The rich electronics within the mid-tempo title track are perfectly offset by Jody's crystalline vocals that glide above the arrangements. Jody's offset backing vocals perfectly compliments the lead. Album standout "Fire King" is an expecially accessible number with layers of Jody's gorgeous vocals and offsetting harmonies. The sweeping string-sounding electronic arrangements are superb.

ZoŽ Johnston: The melody within "A Kind Of Magic" is carried by ZoŽ's whispy lead and lush backing vocal layers. Percussive arrangements establish a pulse and rhythm section for the upbeat number.

Kristy Thirsk: The upbeat percussive electronic arrangement within "A Cut from the Fight"--the planned third single from the album--provides a foundation for Kristy Thirsk's soaring crystalline vocal layers. The contrast between verse and chorus is especially dramatic. The powerful ballad "Reversals" is superbly arranged instrumentally and vocally. Kristy's vocalise contributes to the instrumentals. The lead vocal is delivered tenderly with multi-layered harmonies perfectly rounding out the sound. The melody--with its allusions of early Balligomingo--in the chorus is especially memorable.

Caroline Lavelle: The arrangements for "Rainy World" provide a light but pulsing electronic foundation for Caroline Lavelle's evocative vocal lead. Lavelle's vocal intensity clearly dominates the song. Instrumental breaks are especially dramatic and well placed.

Roberta Carter Harrison: In somewhat of a departure, the album concludes with Sleepthief's rousing cover of "I Know There's Somthing Going On." The pulsing rhythm section and thick bass part is perfectly matched to Roberta's powerful lead vocal. Harmony layers, sweeping strings and rich organ parts contribute great texture to this upbeat track.

The twelve tracks on Sleepthief's second album Labyrinthine Heart not only illustrate the talents of eight stunning vocalists whose stories are contained in the interviews available above, but also the outstanding composition and production talents of Justin Elswick and Israel Curtis. Sleepthief are going from strength to strength exploiting a coherent diversity. Already two new songs are penned for forthcoming singles, the project's fans will anxiously devour this masterpiece. The album release is August 31, 2009--Russ Elliot in New York

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