For the April collaborative blog, the collective delved into the subconscious to provide a playlist for dreams, nightmares, and insomnia. Whether literal or figurative, these songs will offer a guide into the unconscious realms of reality.
Song: “This is Special Blood”
Artist: Ten Thousand Miles of Arteries
Having somewhat recently gone through some troubling adventures, I find it difficult to sleep at times, the moment I lay down being assaulted by a variety of fears, as if they are denser thoughts that are more able to rise to the brain as soon as I lay down to attempt to sleep. It really can get to be a bit much some nights. TTMOA crafts a weird, broadly undulating mix of horrific noise metal with dark electro undertones, but this song in particular tends to capture madness extremely well. The result is a brief track that captures the confusing whirlwind of a horrific nightmare, and particularly the dark time between going to bed and falling asleep where some of the worst thoughts and worries can depend upon a would-be sleeper. It embodies the worst parts of a tumultuous nightmare but without any of the rejuvenation, healing, or promise of a swift sunrise that sleep brings.
Song: “This is Your Final Dream”
Artist: The Mass
Album: Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness
A veteran of many sleepless nights (self-imposed or otherwise), I’m all too familiar with the various stages of the mind that evolve throughout the night. In addition to having a dream-themed title (unrelated), one of The Mass’s finest hits kind of takes a peculiarly-similar form to how my insomnia-laden experiences have been. An initial fiery start and a subsequent deterioration into listlessness for what seems like an eternity dominates the majority of the track, leading to the deep trench of despair that accompanies the song’s title sung as lyrics, belted out with sorrow and madness. I can’t count the times over the last decade that such a nighttime progression has happened to me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed this song so much: it resonates with years of repetition and fatigue.
Song: “Your Grave”
Artist: Dreaming Dead
Album: Funeral Twilight
When it comes to snoozin’, I’ve been at it for a long time. Nearly a lifetime in fact. Despite that, I don’t really have many of what I’d call “good” dreams; the parts I can remember are generally fairly middle of the road and uninspiring. But on rare occasion I’ll have one of those kickass dreams that leave me energized and ready for the day upon my waking. “Your Grave” has a similar effect in that it’s just cool. A heavy black-metal-inspired gallop, crunchy angry vocals, and sufficiently-technical solos that don’t descend to wankery, it’s a perfect mix to make you feel amazing, like waking up from an excellent dream and discovering that the world is, in fact, full of wonder and is out there for you to explore.
Artist: Choir of Young Believers
Album: This Is For The White In Your Eyes
I went through a pretty big Kid Cudi phase for about two years when I was in college. There are so many songs on Man on the Moon and Man on the Moon II where the production and lyrics worked together to straddle the line between a dream and a nightmare. It’s only fitting that “Claustrophobia” by Choir of Young Believers, which Cudi sampled on his song “Mojo So Dope,” has a similar effect. The soundscapes in this song combine to make a relaxing atmosphere that make you feel like you’re floating in a dreamscape, but the chorus, omnipresent light percussion, and heavy lyrics with abrupt imagery of baptism in gasoline dissolve the lines and bring the song into darker territory. True to the name of the song, the louder choruses combine with the bass drum beat to create a claustrophobic feel. The push-pull dynamics in this song are what help bring it back and forth between a dream and nightmare, and the transition between the two is so seamless that the nightmare portion sneaks up on you without you even realizing it.
Song: “If I Had A Heart”
Artist: Fever Ray
Album: Fever Ray
The first time I heard this song was when it was used to make a particularly memorable scene in an episode of Breaking Bad. The show’s producers picked this song citing its “muted loud sort of feel” and “full, heavy darkness,” which they felt captured Jesse Pinkman’s feelings of guilt and mental exhaustion from his and Walter White’s meth operation, as well as the fact that he had let his house turn into an out-of-control, drug-fuelled, 24-hour party den. Perhaps this association is why I think “If I Had A Heart” would be fitting for an episode of insomnia. While the song itself is quiet, the droning bass and ambient electronics in the background are disorienting and sound downright deafening. This captures the feeling of a mind running on no sleep. The subtle bass drums that come in during the second verse are reminiscent of when you’re laying wide awake in bed in a quiet house in the middle of the night and can only hear the sound of your own heartbeat. Meanwhile, the distorted, breathy vocals match what your inner consciousness would sound like in this state, and the repeated mantra of “More, give me more, give me more” captures your mindframe when it’s 4 AM and you’re willing to do anything just to rest your mind and finally doze off.
If you can’t sleep, you can’t sleep. Sometimes you might need to take something. Other times the soporific remedy is music, you know. You know like when you would put a song or an album on, did you ever do this?, in high school maybe?, or maybe as an older person with sleep problems?, put your iPod on a little speaker that you could set next to your bed, and you just set it on some soporific playlist and doze off. Meanwhile, the playlist keeps running for like all eight hours that you’re asleep. So you’re hearing all the stuff as you're sleeping, repeating, and your speaker is just running, you know what I mean? See that was before Al Gore, before we really knew the terrible harm we are doing to the environment. Listening to music like that, in that way, was deeply unethical, and I feel ashamed for us when I think how many of us are culpable.
Even so, sometimes it’s the only thing that’ll do the trick, is listening to music. All fuckin’ night. Here are my personal recommendations for what to just have running in your brain, all through your fuckin’ brain all night long, soporifically running around, running on power, running up the utility bill, ruining the environment, but you have to sleep. So for when you can’t sleep:
Artist: J Dilla
“Relax,” says this kind of music, which is really its own kind, in a league, in a whole village of its own, its own genre altogether, right? And then right when you relax, it changes to something else, something very far away in the funky galaxy. You know that story about Sun Ra that he went to Saturn, then when he came back he wanted to play jazz? J Dilla is like the Sun Ra for the P-Funk planets. You know the planet that the Mothership came down from? That must've been where J Dilla visited, orbited, and came back from to make music. You know what I’m talking about?
Is this too many stories at once? Well then that’s what it’s like, too. You listen to this guy, Jay, James, and it’s like all of a sudden listening to all the conversations going on in your head, in your house, in your dumb town, on your dumb rock of a planet, all at once. You are finally lullabied to sleep by the sheer volume of it all, overloaded and crashed, and sure enough you dream up something like the Big Rap Candy Mountain.
Yeah, this is like hearing a history lesson. In a classroom. In a cold cave. This kind of music reminds you like why you want to sleep. Are you sleeping because you’re tired or maybe because you feel like your body really needs the rest? Are you like really concerned about how many hours your poor body is getting? Are you kind of like a big boss or a fascist guy for your body’s hours? Like telling your body, Hey! Get in line! You haven’t gotten enough hours yet this week. Get some fuckin’ sleep! Or are you just trying to get some fuckin’ sleep because you’re in a cold cave in like a weird history class and you’re trying not to think about it? Either way, Laibach is the music for you. Lay back; let the band do the rest. But I mean rest. It's bedtime.
Artist: The Smothers Brothers
These brothers’ world was at once loopy and dignified, loud and composed, irreverent and conventional. It’s Dr. Seuss’s songbook for adults, in a place, in a show. The Smothers Brothers Show. It's poignant. It’s hilarious. And it’ll put you to sleep in a good mood. You wanna go to bed in a good mood, don’t you?
Song: “Goin’ by the Book”
Artist: Johnny Cash
Album: The Mystery of Life
But this is a boring one. Just a boring song. You also want boring, don't you?, when you’re trying to sleep. Isn’t that what it’s really about? So you get a song about a book, you know, that’s pretty boring. Some old fogey singing about how there’s this book that predicted all the shit that’s happening in the world right now, you know? Paranoid old dude rambling about how it’s all going to hell in a handbasket, kind of song, you know? And the book, the shit that’s happening that it predicted is all this bad shit like whaddya know, and this guy is basically just telling us, “I told you so” type of song. That’s this one. And this one’s got a little horn section in the bridge. And the old geezer is Johnny Cash so he’s got a great big baritone voice. Boy, he sounds like a god or something. Goodnight!
Song: “In Particular”
Artist: Blonde Redhead
Album: Mystery of Certain Damaged Lemons
The feelings associated with insomnia go through phases as the night develops. The cycle generally starts with frustration, craving sleep but not being able to quiet your thoughts. That frustration culminates into an exhaustion, and from there you sink into a schizophrenic-like state of mind. This song sonically mimics those feelings of paranoia in the later hours of the night. The rhythm guitar part in the background keeps a repetitive motion, like a ticking clock mocking your sleeplessness, with the distant and reverberating guitar part layered over it to evoke a sense of spiraling into madness. The sporadic placement of the instrumental sections copy that unnerving experience of hearing suspicious noises around your house and assuming you're in danger. The echoing effect on the vocals also imitate the deterioration of perception over the course of a sleepless night. The lyrics, although they don’t literally have anything to do with this topic, feel as if they are personifying insomnia. Lines calling the listener an "incurable paranoiac" and stating "I am your only friend" capture that feeling from the late night/early morning hours where you are completely alone, and it truly feels like insomnia itself is the only thing keeping and your paranoid mind company.
I realize this song is a bit on the nose, but damnit I can’t leave this one off my list. This is one of the most massive and influential trance songs to come out of the 90s! Unlike the previous selection, this song doesn’t really reflect that anxious, paranoid side of insomnia. Rather, this is more of the possibly speed-induced, dancing nonstop for six hours straight and suddenly it’s 5 am kinda insomnia. The spoken word bit (which is my absolute favorite spoken word section in any song) is a straight-forward, first-person perspective of an insomniac night. Similar to the previous song, though, insomnia is personified as this cruel beast. Singer Maxi Jazz begs insomnia to release him from this curse and let him "dream about making mad love to [his] girl on the heath, tearing off tights with [his] teeth]." If you're a DJ and you're playing into the dawn, this is one of the best tracks you could play to fit the mood and keep people dancing 'till the sunrise.
Album: Forward Escape
There’s a certain type of dream that Tipper’s music recreates. The bubbling noises create an alien landscape, or at least something very foreign from a waking reality. The psychedelic chiming noises ascend you into that heady, dream-like state, but the tight drum machine parts create a grounding effect so you’re not just floating in a haze. That touch of rigidness creates a lucid presence, like you can feel yourself stepping in this artificial, subconscious world. I also love how the drum ‘n bass influence on this track reflects the deceiving pace of a dream itself. The song is moving at a fast pace with the uptempo drum beats , but the ethereal atmosphere makes the overall pace seem quite relaxed. Similarly, a dream may only last a quick two minutes in reality, but it can feel like it's taken the course of many hours in your dream world. This is a great track to fall asleep to (same with Tipper’s downtempo Shambala set) and hope you can invoke a lucid experience.
Song: “To Carry the Seeds of Death Within Me”
Artist: The Body
Album: I Shall Die
Well, seeing as how I grew up listening to heavy music, it was hard for me to narrow down just one song that really best suits a nightmare. There are some obvious death metal tracks that could suit a torturous scene in a nightmare, but I wanted to pick something that really gets under your skin…y’know, a song that reflects one of those nightmares that really gets in your head and fucks you up. I started off searching my music library with key terms such as “death”, “Satan”, and “kill”, as any one who's trying to find a nice lullaby would do, and eventually I landed on The Body's "To Carry the Seeds of Death Within Me". Man, it takes a lot for me to feel scared from a song...but this really fucks me up every time. The contrast of the slow, drudgey guitar part backing the Chip's shrieking voice makes for such a tense experience. This song teases you with almost calming moments of silence, where the instrumentation mostly cuts out and all you hear is the sound of heavy breathing. All this really does, however, is make you reflect on your own anxiety before the music resurfaces and buries you alive in a thick wall of noise. Just like a nightmare that you can't seem to shake off for the rest of the day, this song leaves you feeling claustrophobic and afraid well after it's finished.
Weird as it sounds, my day job is to study sleep. Turns out there's this thing called sleep paralysis that happens sometimes where you're in the middle of a dream, and all the sudden your brain wakes up before your body does. The result is a semi-conscious state characterized by extremely vivid hallucinations and a sensation of complete paralysis. It can either be strangely enjoyable and thrill-inducing, or completely fucking terrifying. It also turns out this is relatively common for people who are overstressed and aren't getting an adequate amount of sleep, so naturally I had a few of this episodes myself throughout college (I swear I'm not crazy, look it up on Wikipedia). These are a few songs that remind of those experiences:
Artist: System of a Down
Okay, so the title of this one is a little bit obvious, but both lyrically and sonically, this song captures pretty well what it feels like to literally be stuck in a nightmare - frenetic instrumentals, imagery of body parts on walls, anxiety-inducing ghoulish vocals, and the plea "someone kick me out of my mind, I hate these thoughts I can't deny". Far from being the most nightmarish in System of a Down's vast catalog of weirdness, but definitely one you don't want to listen to right before bed.
Song: "Open Mouth"
Artist: Kaki King
Album: Dreaming of Revenge
I think the most terrifying and vivid sleep paralysis experience I ever had was that I had been kidnapped, gagged, bound, blindfolded and locked in a room, while my kidnappers discussed the best way for them to kill me and dispose of my body. There were no bizarre visual hallucinations of demons or anything like that (the usual for these kinds of dreams), just a slow-building sensation of dread and a desperation to escape. This hauntingly ethereal, paranoid-schizophrenic lullaby brings me right back to that place, in the best way possible.
Song: "Paradise Circus"
Artist: Massive Attack
By turns both blissful and paranoia-inducing, this song really gets at the bizarre paradox of simultaneously enjoying and being scared shitless over finding yourself in a waking nightmare. Throw this one as you're falling asleep and let the massive, haunting outro carry you away. Sweet dreams.
Song: "Dreamweapon: An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music"
Artist: Spacemen 3
Album: Dreamweapon: An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music
Though I could have picked nearly any piece from Spacemen 3’s entrancing collection of grungy, psychedelic space rock, I thought it most appropriate to select the one inspired by avant-garde composer La Monte Young's concept of "dream music." Clocking in at just under 45 minutes, the 1988 live performance sounds exactly like what you’d expect from a bunch of heroin rock junkies blissing out on sitar.
Song: "Path 3 (7676)"
Artist: Max Richter
Time to get literal. Max Richter composed this epic (let all other uses of the word “epic” perish and die in a ditch) 8.5-hour neoclassical piece to actually be played while you sleep. Truthfully, the times I’ve attempted this I had trouble dreaming because the sheer beauty of the piece kept me up at time. The song I selected only occurs 38 minutes into the piece, so you probably wouldn’t have hit REM at that moment—insomniacs would probably just be warming up—but it’s so stunningly serene that it must be shared.
Song: "Dreaming of You"
Album: Dreaming of You
We lost her too, too soon, and we’ll never ever get over it. This is especially an important time of year for Selena fans, since we’re right in between two important dates: March 31 (the date she died) and April 16 (the date she was born). To some it may sound like super cheesy pop music, but the rest of us recognize true talent when we hear it. So if you need me, I’ll be over here dreaming about a world in which Selena still lives and graces us with her music.
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