Once again, recently, I’ve been struggling with insomnia, something that judging on some mornings on social networks that quite a few of my friends suffer from too. I go through phases like this – like many, I’m sure, connected to stress or work, or both – and indeed during much of my student days I was not far off nocturnal (the perils of few lectures and late night working as part of the Uni events team, amongst other things), but recently I’ve been worse than in a long while.
In some respects, too, I’m wondering how exactly I got to the 196th edition of this Tuesday Ten series having never covered this subject before. So, here’s ten songs about sleeping, not sleeping and other nighttime activities…
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/I Need Some Sleep
/Meet the Eels: Essential Eels, Vol. 1 (1996–2006)
Bizarrely from the Shrek 2 soundtrack originally, this gorgeous little lullaby (something Mark Everett was always great at) is a scratchy, barely-there track with a vocal appropriately sounding like it hasn’t slept for days. The opening lyric makes this plainly clear: “I need some sleep / It can’t go on like this / I tried counting sheep / But there’s one I always miss“. A feeling I can all-too-often relate to – that desperate feeling of trying to get some much-needed shuteye, but your brain and body simply won’t shut down, at least until it is far too late, and you wake in the morning in desperate need of a pick-me-up and hope that no-one gives you anything complicated to do at work.
/This World and Body
Still, you could be like the subject of Marion’s early single, drifting through life as a dreamer, one of those that expect life to come to them. It’s caustic putdowns (“Then go back to bed and take my friends there too“) are wrapped in the veneer of a glorious, charging indie-pop song (and is just possibly about as good as Marion got), as if Jamie Harding was determined to not fall into a similar trap. That he kinda did – the band imploding due, amongst other things, to his addictions – makes it all the sadder in retrospect.
/Yesterday Went Too Soon
Ah, now here’s a rock cliché – the song (and video) inspired by being on tour in the United States. So many bands have gone to do this, and many, many have failed to some extent. Sadly Feeder were another who never really got too much success over there, as I recall, which is kinda surprising when you think how radio-friendly much of their output, even from their early days, was. I have to confess I’ve not heard this song in a long while (since seeing them at Sonisphere 2009, in fact), and I’d forgotten it’s breathless, hyperactive feel. Even if it’s been some time, thankfully, since I drank myself to sleep in the manner noted here.
Also getting on a bit now, a track that comes from 16volt’s finest hour as far as I’m concerned – the album where they got the balance between industrial grind and songcraft absolutely bang on (not to mention it being the one album where it really is all killer, no filler). But anyway, this bright, catchy song – complete with a wonderful, sing-a-long chorus, that once again is now stuck deep in my brain – hides a dark lyrical theme, that of sleeping to avoid the pain of loss, presumably in this case a lover now gone, and sleeping to avoid a spiral into negativity. The end of the song suggests that he fails in that part.
/…and the Darkness Bangs
Cold In Berlin’s stark, aggressive take on post-punk took an unexpected turn towards vulnerability with this song. A howl of sleepless, lustful fury that at least for a short while, admitted that there was a chink in singer Mya’s armour. Not that long, mind. Anyway: a tale of sleepnessless purely down to the fact that pining for an absent lover is at least a little different, I guess. Tellingly, though, it is never made all that clear as to whether the absence is temporary or not…
/Sleep To Dream
I think the first Fiona Apple song I heard – and I’ve been a fan ever since (and a bloody patient one, too). A catty kiss-off to an ex-lover, where the idea of sleeping (and dreaming) is seen as wasting time and one’s life, not to mention the ex- being something of coward in doing this and other transgressions. Rather wonderfully, too, the song has a sleepy, woozy feel (to the electronics that underpin it, in particular), in direct contrast to Apple’s testy vocal delivery. As a pointer to the delights to come in her musical work, it was quite a pointer.
/The God of Sleep
Back as Britpop was beginning to die on it’s arse, Geneva were one of a number of more thoughtful, delicate-sounding bands to break through and add something other than beered-up boorishness. They were certainly different, that’s for sure, with their songs having loads of space to allow Andrew Montgomery’s extraordinary vocals to shine through. This song, a sort of prayer, kinda appropriate given the angelic vocals, twisting somewhat the traditional children’s bedtime prayer into a somewhat more adult conceit.
/To Here Knows When
Shoegaze, that most sophorific of genres at times, sometimes took things to faintly ridiculous extremes – and let’s be honest, Kevin Shields and his band were responsible for most of the extremes. One case is how Bilinda Butcher’s vocals were recorded for Loveless – as the story goes she was woken from sleep and taken directly to record her vocals first thing in the morning…hence the sleepy atmospheres here that textured vocals provided were entirely deliberate. Picking one song from this glorious album was damned difficult as a result – although bizarrely When You Sleep is the least sophorific of the lot. So I’ve plumped for the woozy elegance of this, which musically and lyrically to me suggests dreamlike, sleepy sex.
/Wake Me Up Before I Sleep
/In A Bar, Under The Sea
The bleakest song on the list comes from one of my favourite bands, Belgian cultural magpies dEUS. This song was the exhausted postscript to their second full album, the full stop to an album that reaches it’s climax the track before (the charging Roses, a long-time fan favourite), and is three minutes of utter despair. A plea to a friend or a lover – it’s unclear which – it’s a cry into the dark of night where the protagonist is so, so desperate to not fuck anything else up, but seems resigned to the fact that even sleeping is going to be a terrible, terrible mistake. dEUS were always so wonderful for their playful takes on all kinds of music from their past, but were so often all the more brilliant when they allowed their emotional side to filter through into their saddest songs (see also Sister Dew).
Finally, a song that is fairly certain to disrupt your sleep. Not because it’s loud, though – it’s because Siouxsie and Budgie concoct a deeply disturbing lullaby, one that drifts in-and-out of your mind and leaves a deep feeling of dread. In fact, everything about it seems designed to leave you feeling very, very uncomfortable indeed, and it was perhaps no great surprise to see it appear on the spectacularly creepy Blair Witch Project “soundtrack” (actually entitled Josh’s Blair Witch Mix, and a “mixtape” found in his car after the event), which was a collection of songs well-chosen to scare the bejesus out of you (it had Skinny Puppy’s terrifying Draining Faces, for a start – a song that appeared to be written especially for the film, despite being twelve years old).