Although some need silence as they doze off and others like just a little white noise, we here at NoHype prefer not to waste our somnambular time with such quaintities. Bedtime is a sacred landmark of our daily lives – a unique moment of reprieve when we are forced to forget the mundanities of the world and float into a dreamscape of synaesthetic creativity. It’s a place where the blackness of your eyelids is replaced by a beautifully mangled amalgamation of your sublimated desires, subconscious emotional concerns, and immediate physical environment. And while you can always close your eyes, you can never close your ears. The sounds that lull you to sleep hold a powerful position – too complex and you risk becoming too involved, too subdued and you may find yourself reflexively pondering your own boredom. Thankfully, over many years of sleep-listening, certain albums begin to stick out as particularly apt for both transporting you into slumberous majesty and keeping you put once you’ve arrived. We’ve collected some of our favorites for you here, and are best enjoyed with half an Ambien, a glass of red wine, and the cold side of a pillow.
Air – Music for Museum
This vinyl-only release from the French electronica duo is a true ambient pleasure. It’s a succinct distillation of the sleepy synthesizer sounds that permeate the background of Air’s discography. Inspired by the artwork and architecture of the Palais De Beaux Arts de Lilleis, a Parisian museum, the sounds of this record are sculptural and svelte, geometric yet organic. It seeps into your being and lifts you through the heavens into blissful serenity. I hope the museum had some nice cushions.
Aaron Parks – Arborescence
As one of the leaders of the progressive jazz vanguard, Aaron Parks is often surrounded by some of the greatest, most technically gifted players in the world. But on this record, the young piano star sneaks away from the clubhouse and plays a beautifully delicate solo set. Combining harmonically complex jazz chords, Debussy-esque semi-tone voice leadings, and Oriental pentatonic patterns, the work speaks for itself in displaying the transcendent creative magic that Aaron brings to the table, and is sure to bring you to dreamland, that is, if it doesn’t bring you to tears first.
Philip Glass – Solo Piano
There is perhaps no single artist who more deserves to be on this list that Philip Glass. When he became minimalism’s biggest proponent back in the 60s, there was a sense of urgency in his calm, a sense that in repetition, something new could be found and a new art could be forged. Now that so much of our music is based on looping and repetition, that idea no longer seems quite as radical. However, the deep humanity found in every phrase of this work can still be appreciated outside of any academic pretenses while listened to in a somnambular daze. The first seven tracks, called The Metamorphoses suite, are an astounding work of meditative perfection, and go a long way towards making this album a go-to for setting off a night of restful shuteye.
Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music for Airports
If you have not yet experienced the tranquility that this album brings to a darkened bedroom, you are missing the fuck out. Widely considered the first true “ambient” release, this 1978 record is one that will remain fresh for many years to come. From the very first chime until the album’s final pad movements (I doubt you’ll get there), you are transported to a land of wonder and subtle magic, where forever isn’t long enough and tomorrow is just a moment too soon. Although Eno created the album for airport listening, it’s a malleable listen that works equally well emanating from a bedside speaker. Once you’ve gotten acquainted with this masterpiece, give the rest of the 4-part Ambient series a shot – they’re all unique trailblazing efforts into the most sleep-friendly genre around.
Claude Speeed – My Skeleton
While many of these albums are memorable in their aesthetic presentation, My Skeleton is very much… not. But that’s what makes it great. It’s an album that you love while you’re in it and then can’t quite remember anything about once you’ve left it behind. There’s a looming sense of pathos behind the relaxed facade that Speeed puts on here, and it’s that shrouded emotion keeps you coming back to listen time and time again, urging you to try to find the meaning that eludes you, all the while, the synthetic orchestral warbling and arpeggiated dark matter sneakily lead you into deep, deep slumber.
Zero 7 – When It Falls
I might consider this joint more of a nap album than a sleeper, but regardless, it gets the job done. Critics weren’t too hot on it when it came out in 2004, but I insist there’s a certain charm in the release’s casual lounginess and poppy downtempo vibes. The featured vocal performances, including a couple from pre-anonymity Sia, are strong throughout, but never so involved that they demand conscious attention. Zero 7 are the cool-kid chillers supreme, but with this album, no incense or mood lighting is necessary. They just want you to lie with them in cold sheets while the wind ruffles the leaves outside. Let them whisper in your ear as you sleep your troubles away.
Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life
One of the many jazz artists that Nujabes samples is Pat Metheny. While some see Metheny, and his debut album, Bright Size Life, as the unfortunate origin point for unlistenable elevator jazz, the truth of the matter is that his sound is quite brilliant. Relaxed yet highly speedy, the guitarist blows through chord changes with a prototypical post-bop rapidity, but his gentle touch and even-tempered voicings bring the whole band to a restful state of contemplation. Featuring Jaco Pastorius on bass (what a vibrato!) and Bob Moses on drums (those brushes!), the band comes together as a whole with stunning cohesion and re-defined the context of jazz music – this was too sterile for romance, too airy for intellectualizing, too laid back for attentiveness, and too lackadaisical to swing to. For perhaps the first time, this was jazz music for dreamers.
Nujabes – Metaphorical Music
Listening to Nujabes’ jazz-sampling hip-hop beats is like going to Heaven and finding out that God is a chillass Japanese dude who listens to tons of Dilla. The light nonchalance with which Nujabes loops his shit seems not only effortless, but natural, as if the instrumental clips he uses were simply waiting for his directions. This record might also be a better nap album than sleep album, but I’ve definitely used it to great success in both contexts. Without pushing the exotification thing too hard, there’s definitely something to be said about the deep calm and pastoral stillness found in Japanese music, and Nujabes (RIP) channels it perfectly on this legendary record.
Balam Acab – Balam Acab
I’ve heard it said that in the moments before drowning, when your brain begins to float in liquid, an overwhelming sense of resolve and even ecstatic pleasure takes over your senses. I imagine that sensation every time I listen to Balam Acab’s debut EP, and that is frequently with my head in a pillow and my extremities spread awide. Hauntingly beautiful helium-pitched vocals move hand-in-hand with booming bass, reverb-drenched synthscapes, and signature water samples (splashes, drips, drops, and plops), coalescing into a dreamy sub-marine world that grabs you and refuses to let go until you have given in to its power and blacked out into the darkness of the REM cycle looming in the depths below.
James Zabiela – Essential Mix
Not an album, per se, but James Zabiela’s Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1 is a superb specimen of what can be done with the DJ set form when divorced from the dance floor and re-imagined as conceptual sound art. A self-described “confused DJ,” he interweaves layers of music from a number of genres, from downtempo to indietronica, from breakbeat to glitch-hop, all filtered through an ambient lens that makes for an incredible end-of-night listen. This mix is inspired by and loosely follows the arc of Duncan Jones’ 2009 science fiction film “Moon” and features dialogue samples from throughout the film, along with some really innovative loop composed of the film’s space-age sound effects. There’s some real complexity to the beatmashing here, but as with any good mix, the seams are invisible. It’s amazing how such a detailed piece of music can at once be so engaging and so easy to get lost in. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to spin it again.
John Martyn – London Conversation
I’m not the biggest folk music guy, but 60s British troubadour John Martyn’s acoustic guitar album London Conversation is just a simple, remarkably earnest record that has lulled me to sleep on a number of occasions. Martyn’s lyrical concerns, many of which follow age-old tropes of love lost, drugs found, and living life on the road, are masked but the remarkably happy vibes permeating his energetic picking patterns. It’s easy to picture him lying alongside you in bed, singing you these songs for the very first time, guitar pressed against his bared hairy chest. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t know his own charm, and doesn’t expect anything in return for his love. He’ll lie with you for hours and as your eyelids slowly relax and he’ll carefully store his guitar back in its case and kiss your forehead before climbing into his truck, lighting a cigarette, and never looking back.
Eivind Aarset – Dream Logic
It’s worth listening to this album a few times. There’s too much space to actively listen for more than a minute or two at a time, but the moments in between are surely worth the patience. Aarset is a Norwegian guitarist who uses his post-modal jazz chops and extensive double pedal-board to create ambient textures through which electronic whizzes and whirs meander and emerge. His lyrical phrasing, when given the clarity it deserves, is warm and thoughtful, but the real draw is the ghostly nocturnal backdrop, ebbing and flowing with a meteorological sureness.
inc. – no world
This 2011 album by brotherly r&b duo “inc.” is a delicate gem of a record. It’s a paradigmatic example of the “PBR&B” style that became such a phenomenon in that year. It’s a gentle, caressing take on 90s urban radio hitmaking – a re-imagination of what r&b music could be when thrown into interplay with indie-pop, hip-hop, and ambient electronica. no world is simultaneously light in texture and heavy in weight, and it’s a fantastic match for any pillowy wonderland or linen sheeted paradise. After the first three or four tracks, however, things start getting a bit redundant. Good thing you’ll be out cold by then.
Tycho – Dive
Take a look at Scott Hansen’s graphic design work on his ISO50 blog. It’s contemplative and naturally-inclined – organic beauty as seen through a frosted glass screen, or perhaps as seen on a HD touch screen. Dive, Hansen’s debut LP as Tycho, works with a similar aesthetic. The source of its beauty and calm is the biosphere – the majesty of waves and wind and sunny glare, but all these elements are re-contextualized by technology’s gaze. There’s something highly commodified and “boxed-up” about the sound – there is no emotion here, no splendor nor transcendence. It’s a plainly pretty album with minimal dynamism, but one that you will be glad to have loaded up for your coming journeys in dreamland.