Experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This makes sense. Breakfast food and drink is the day’s first fuel, that which drives you through those decisive morning hours.
And although a balanced breakfast is undeniably important, whether it be a warm bowl of oatmeal or a couple of egos with a fresh glass of orange juice, some students stubbornly refuse the grandest of grand slam breakfasts, opting rather to coast through the morning hours on last night’s fumes, a sorry state of affairs.
If breakfast is that which gives one the strength to attack the morning, what is that essential element that assures a good night’s sleep? I believe I have the answer, yet, unlike breakfast, one probably won’t find it endorsed by the surgeon general. No, not sedatives. In fact, this sleep-enhancer is decidedly anti-drug. It’s the settle down record.
We go through so many dramas and predicaments in a day, that when it comes time for the laying down of weary heads, too often paranoia and agitation win over sleep. Settling down is easier said than done, but there are albums that can soothe even the most anxious.
Before the elements of an excellent pre-sleep album are exacted, the atmosphere of the setting must be established. The lights must be dimmed. If you are on campus, do all that you can to not turn on the overhead fluorescent lights, lights that make “Connect 4” look sterile and depressing. Instead, face a desk lamp down for your light source. Phone calls are not to be accepted and the shades should be drawn for a feeling of total separation from the outside world. Only then comes the music.
First, let’s set up the parameters of a great pre-rest album. It’s too easy to say that the record must be “soft” or “slow.” Although those adjectives apply to most soothing records, they are not at all their essence. In fact, soft and slow can be just as unsettling as Slayer; take Nick Cave or Portishead, for example.
Certainly, there is something more than bpm’s and acoustic guitars to great records. A great rest record features an inaudible space in the recording leaving room for one to breathe, a mysterious openness that begs one to get under the covers and allow the mind to linger in the sound. Similar to setting, it’s just as much a matter of atmosphere as it is tempo and dynamics, and the atmosphere longed for before bed is just like the feeling one experiences on the couch after a long day of skiing: warm, impenetrable calm.
Almost just as important as atmosphere is that the record be a legitimate record, not a mix tape for sleeping. A mix tape features so many changes in texture and production that true relaxation is always at arm’s length, while a record takes the listener to a specific world, a world totally unrelated to the stresses of the day, for 45-60 minutes.
The best pre-rest CD’s are ones that have a personal significance and never fail to slow the world down, maybe based on previous significance in your life. Nevertheless, here are some of the records that never fail to halt my spinning head so that I can rest.
“Penthouse,” Luna’s 1995 release, is perfect for bedtime. My dad bought me this record on a whim when I was a junior in high school. Since then, Dean Wareham’s clipped, nasal vocals and warm guitar fade the day away.
When he sings “you’re out all night chasing girlies, you’re late to work but you come home early,” nothing sounds better than going to sleep with no thought of waking up on time.
Another great pre-slumber album is Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s 1963 collaboration “Getz/Gilberto.” Every lazy saxophone solo, every verse in Portuguese, everything really, transports the listener to a beach where there is no volleyball and no guys with metal detectors. All that’s left is you, miles of sand, and nothing to do but lie down and relax away the time.
A newer album perfect for the occasion is Low’s 2001 full length “Things We Lost In the Fire.” Forget everything I said about the inconsequence of tempo; this married duo makes lethargy everything, even to the point of pioneering a new genre of rock and roll, slowcore (no joke). Not only is this album beautiful, but parts of it are the musical equivalent of sleeping, deconstructed monotony interrupted sporadically by a dream of a vocal harmony or guitar solo.
Sleep well into your morning classes, my friends.
March 21, 2002