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Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Wanna Be Sedated

posted by on October 9 at 16:08 PM

In a short time, I’ll be heading overseas for a six-week European tour. One of my strongest survival skills is the ability to sleep comfortably just about anywhere. The only problem comes with the European time-zone change. Around 3pm, I become useless. Narcoleptic. No amount of caffeine can rouse me from my jet-lagged stupor. It’s 6am back in Seattle and my body is telling me that I’ve been up all night. And come 2am Euro-time, I’m wide-awake. Now my body is thinking it’s 5pm and I need to rally for the evening. So while I have no problem sleeping on the floor of a punk squat or on the bench seat of a van, I do have some trouble maintaining a normal sleep schedule with a 9-hour time difference.

The remedy is self-medication and a pair of headphones. If I’m gonna be staring at a pitch-black ceiling for a few hours, I might as well have a decent soundtrack and a healthy buzz. A hearty European beer, perhaps a cup of Calimucho, and a good record can expedite a solid night of sleep. Or at least make that darkness a little less lonely.

Some of my favorite sleepy time soundtracks after the jump… and feel free to suggest some of your own.

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Stars of the LidAnd Their Refinement of the Decline

There is perhaps no other more tranquil and lulling collection of songs. Stars of the Lid created the perfect sleep aid with their triple album of classically tinged ambient drone compositions. From the subtle majesty of “Dungtitled (In A Major)” to the sprawling beauty and delayed pay-off of “December Hunting For Vegetarian Fuckface,” the entire album is a delicate and rich study in tone and melody. It is unlikely that there is any other scenario where the Texan duo’s work is more effective than with headphones on and eyes closed, patiently waiting to slide into unconsciousness. If only they’d work on those awful song titles…

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REMReckoning

I’ve always been an REM fan, though I will admit that my attention span has slipped over the last decade and a half. But their second album escaped my attention in my younger and more obsessive years. People just don’t talk about Reckoning much. It wasn’t the groundbreaking debut of Murmur; it wasn’t the Billboard breakthrough of Document, or the major-label zeitgeist of Automatic For The People. It was the sleepy sophomore effort from a little Georgia band obsessed with the Americana of The Byrds and the art leanings of The Velvet Underground. But it might be REM’s most honest and real record. Whereas Murmur still sounds like a band bullied around by the album’s producer, Fables of the Reconstruction sounds like a band trying too hard, and all the subsequent records sound a bit overly polished and professional, Reckoning is the one record that sounds like a band that’s simultaneously confident and humble. It took a few long nights with the album playing on my iPod to really savor it. In those moments of sensory deprivation, the full beauty of psychoacoustics unfolds. Not only can I hear the drums, I can hear where the drums are in relation to the bass guitar and guitar in the recording studio. I can see the members of the band in some tiny room back in the winter of 1983-84 slugging it out. I can see how hard Bill Berry is hitting his drums. I can see Michael Stipe, eyes closed, leaning in to the mic and singing in the mumbled manner of his early years. I can see Mike Mills nodding lightly as the bass comes in on “Seven Chinese Brothers.” With no frills, no fancy effects, and no budget, the listener’s imagination is given the opportunity to run rampant with these tracks. The songs are stripped to their bare essence and allowed to stand for themselves. The brain fills in the rest of the gaps.

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Antony & The JohnsonsI Am A Bird Now

How do you listen to this music and not resign to lying prostrate and motionless? Those graceful ballads and that sorrowful Nina Simone-inspired voice are enough to make anyone give up and take a nap in hopes that the world will be a less cruel place when one wakes up. The middle section of “Man Is The Baby” is particularly moving. The music drops out to a solitary piano note, and the string section delicately builds a melody that travels from sorrowful to ominous to uplifting over the course of a just a few measures. A true masterpiece.

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CANTago Mago

The album title always makes me think of Cabo Wabo or Maui Wowie. I think the latter is probably the better supplement to enjoy this record. I sometimes wonder if Damo Suzuki picked the title specifically so that stoners across the world could nudge each other and say, “let’s get reefed and listen to some Tago Mago.” It’s a hazy and strange record. It’s a perfect compliment to that deteriorating sense of comprehension that accompanies the onset of sleep. The slap-back delay on the drums, the backward vocal tracks, the atonal guitar work, Damo’s incomprehensible lyrics, the hypnotic drumbeats… all of it works as a fitting soundtrack to the slow and strange slip into slumber.

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Bob DylanBiograph vol. 2

The problem with early Dylan is that damn harmonica. It resides on that certain frequency that pierces ears like a cheap shopping mall jeweler. As great as Freewheelin’ might be, I can’t fall asleep to it because just as I start to doze off, the harmonica comes in like a fuckin’ banshee wail. But for a few weeks of one European jaunt, I fell asleep every night to this Dylan collection. I was primarily interested in the opening track: a live rendition of Blonde on Blonde’sVisions of Johanna.” Gone is the studio album’s backing band. It’s just Dylan, an acoustic guitar, and the audience. The vibe is entirely different, and infinitely better. Maybe ol’ Robert Zimmerman really can’t sing, but this song illustrates why it doesn’t matter. For one, Bob understands his voice and it’s limits. He stays within his bounds and exploits his weaknesses. But more importantly, his lyrics, not his melodies, are the focus. I spent weeks trying to figure out “Visions of Johanna.” He keeps singing about banging Louise, but then ultimately he keeps talking about this Johanna lady. Then he goes onto all these tangents about Mona Lisa, fish trucks, and a mule with binoculars… what the fuck? After seven and a half minutes, I’d either fall asleep or lay awake scratching my head. Conventional wisdom holds that Dylan’s song of pining after another woman is just an allegory. He’s with Louise, but he wants Johanna. Louise is what is attainable, and Johanna is that perfection that is always just out of reach. Louise is ultimately a symbol for Dylan’s own artistic creations. It’s what he’s capable of, while Johanna is the masterpiece he’ll never have the ability to create. All the lyrical references to art and the lifted William Blake lines point in this direction. The lady with the moustache that can’t find her knees is Duchamp’s desecrated version of the Mona Lisa, an attack on perfection. You could spend weeks unraveling the song. And I’ve tried. And fallen asleep.

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EarthHibernaculum

Methadone-induced pacing and repetition are two effective musical components to a good snooze formula. Both traits are foundations to Earth’s sound. This is not to say that the band is boring by any means. In fact, this four-song 36-minute record is positively intriguing. But its doped-down tempo and vast expanses of sustained notes will definitely lull any listener into a hypnotic and subdued state. From the gloomy and brooding aura of the first three tracks to the resounding chords of redemption that close “A Plague of Angels,” Hibernaculum is a riveting study in patience and nuance.

RSS icon Comments

1

Don't forget just about any Sigur Ros album

Posted by Hellsyeah | October 9, 2008 4:57 PM
2

Have you tried taking a sleeping pill on the plane over to knock you out for the ride? Might balance it out somewhat?

Posted by trent moorman | October 9, 2008 5:08 PM
3

Don't forget to read the New Rolling Stone... this month issue 1063...

listen to the advice and stay out of the limelight.....

there's good victuals up in them thar hills....

Posted by dankieneker | October 9, 2008 6:53 PM
4

Brian - Did you see that Joose has got a "Grape Dragon" flavor now? I smell an endorsement deal...

Posted by Jeff Kirby | October 10, 2008 12:30 PM
5

Here is a tip: try and mentally convert Mike and Dave's non stop chatter re: grade school ice hockey and the delightful menu at Macaroni Grill into the quiet sounds of ocean waves....works for me.

Posted by Dr R | October 10, 2008 2:33 PM
6

I've used many sleepy time records for 3rd shift jobs over the years, Dark Side of the Moon, Disintegration, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, etc., but one of the best sleep-inducing records ever (for me at least) is Brian Eno's Shutov Assembly. That record will put me out within minutes, every time.

Posted by Cog Sinister | October 10, 2008 7:51 PM
7

Tristeza "Dream Signals In Full Circles"

Posted by too tired... | October 11, 2008 2:45 AM
8

@4 - by our definition, that must mean there's cough syrup in it.
@5 - that is genius

Posted by brian cook | October 11, 2008 9:32 AM
9

I dunno... Earth just always makes me think of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Nah good.

Have you tried Julee Cruise? Works every time.

Posted by Jennifer | October 11, 2008 5:17 PM

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