Lowell Brams is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and co-founder of Asthmatic Kitty Records with Sufjan Stevens -- they are also both insomniacs. On Music for Insomnia, the fourth volume in their label's Library Catalog Sound Series, they've collaborated to create a collection of electric and acoustic atmospheres that reflect a variety of moods for those plagued by the inability to sleep. While it's soothing in places, it often reflects the interiority of a mind that has its sleep sensors crossed. The CD set opens with "Chattering Garden Trolls," played primarily on a series of guitars, stringed instruments, piano, and other percussion instruments. This track sounds exactly like what it's titled, but reflects -- perhaps more accurately -- the hyperactivity of a mind trying like the devil to get to sleep but is unable to rest. It flits across plucked and manipulated strings both in and out of tune, space and activity get jumbled together, themes insert themselves and disappear just as quickly, etc. And this goes on for five and a half minutes. "Alpha to Theta" is titled obviously for the generation of certain kinds of brain waves that occur in waking and sleeping states. This cut, populated with beautiful little synth lines, treated acoustic piano, single-string electric guitars hypnotically repeating a three-note phrase, and other droning instruments and themes, is as blissed-out as can be for the first half, generating a place of peace and dreaminess, but that harmony is exchanged for a conflict with itself and dissonance about halfway through that continues through the end of its nearly 13 minutes. Instruments such as harmoniums, reedless woodwinds, shakers, autoharp, and prepared piano are utilized as well as more conventional ones. Other elements from duct tape to keys are employed to rather disturbing effect as well. No matter how beautifully and tunefully and harmoniously a piece begins, it ends somewhere else, in the nether regions of improvisation and dislocation, reflecting a certain kind of loneliness reserved for the insomniac, the kind that distances him/her from the rest of the dreaming populace. Only "Dream About Vince Guaraldi" somehow resists this temptation to go for the totally outer limits, and somehow keeps its bearings. This doesn't make it bad music to listen to at all, though it is occasionally downright scary, as evidenced by the closer, the appropriately titled "A Cross Section of Clown Mountain." This set is for the more adventurous music listener, one who welcomes "outside" music and the innovative, even disturbing use of sound. It's ambitious, indulgent, fun, and frightening simultaneously -- and it will most definitely not cure your insomnia.
Performance CreditsLowell Brams Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Autoharp,Drums,Electric Guitar,Harmonium,Keyboards,Tambourine,Bells,Korg,Shaker,Prepared Piano
Sufjan Stevens Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Percussion,Piano,Autoharp,Drums,Electric Guitar,Harmonium,Keyboards,Tambourine,Bells,Track Performer,Shaker,Casio,Prepared Piano
Bryce Dessner Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar
Technical CreditsSufjan Stevens Composer,Producer,Engineer
Lowell Brams Composer,Producer