Maybe I’m hanging with the wrong crowd, but everyone I know needs more and better sleep. If we could only get the sleep thing right, everything else would just fall into place. We would realize potential because potential would realize us. We would not begin everything in debt and in deficit. We would carry our social lives and not be carried by them. The intricate, over-studied narratives of psychology would lose their obsessive interest and flake off from a self sort-of-almost reborn each day. All, at least, would be forgiven.
The problem with sleep is that is requires more than just a surface calm. I can lie atop a calm surface all night just as I would upon the electric grids of anxiety, unperturbed, and never feel the briny tendrils and mesh of sleep twining with my digits and offering me down. Never even know the place was there. Sleep has not only depth but dimensional architecture, structural tolerances, signaling systems, forms and permissions, barely lit routes of access and egress, codes and currencies.
Sleep is not still, not passive. It is engagement. It demands composure and energy. It has angles of entry, technics, a cast of thousands. Sleep is a book. It favors the koans of misdirection. To find out who you really are, write about something else. To know sleep, forget its name. You must craft your own shaft for falling, and fall in a composed but egoless posture of surrender like you did when you were young, when your ego was still soft and experimental, never doubting or even calling into consciousness your one true superpower, which is the ability to breathe underwater.
So why is the popular $20 adjective/noun soporific used almost exclusively in the pejorative? I intend to rehab this beautiful word by attaching it to The Moonlights, a lovely self-titled collaboration between Dean Jones (Dog on Fleas) and Rachel Loshak (solo artist and Gustafer Yellowgold). This is one quiet record but that is not what lends it its legitimate soporific powers. Yes, the dynamic range here is narrow and utterly intolerant of anything you would call a spike, but within those boundaries and by those rules, there lies exceptional depth and dimensionality, motion, color and character in the hushed-but-eventful arrangements and in the large cast of instrumental voices. Like sleep, it is serene but necessarily complex in design. Most art that would be soporific only gets the serene part right.
Jones’ No Parking studio in Rosendale is a Grammy-authenticated capital of kids music and more, and one of the main reasons why is the man’s vast talents as arranger and multi-instrumentalist, in brilliant display all across The Moonlights. From the delicate uke-led two-part canon of the Jones-penned “That Light” to such album-track gems as Loshak’s lush, brass-enriched beauty “Ah, the Moon,” and the muted candy pop of “Color of Leaves,” the arrangements are almost excruciatingly fine and precise, reveling, as Jones-directed music often does, in a sublimated sense of pre-rock wit and cool that owes something to Henry Mancini and Raymond Scott, something to Spike Jones, something to Pete Seeger, and yet something else to Steve Reich.
Essentially drumless, The Moonlights does allow the occasional sandy shaker, a tongue drum (?), and some pawing, woody rhythm beds of kalimba and marimba. Even so, it is, quite often, a groove record: quirky rags (“Bake a Cake”), light swing (“Woodpecker,” “Symphony for Dogs”) Afro-Cuban and island insinuations (“City of Trees,” “Mother and Father”). The Moonlights moves with pajama-footed innocence and slippery grace.
The voices are well paired: Jones as a character crooner, Loshak’s acrobatic control accounting for layers and layers of counterpoint. Lyrically, The Moonlights is a study in poetic minimalism and hypnosis – each song a well-worked, single syntactical premise. Only one, “Dream Chasers” deals explicitly with sleep (and sleep disorders, of a kind). The Moonlights is not an anthology of lullabies; sleep, and dream, is more of a lens than a subject.
The Moonlights celebrate the release of The Moonlights with a performance at the Pivot Ground Café & Work Space on Saturday, February 4 at noon, at 63 Broadway in Kingston. Individual tickets are $10. Family pack and pre-order discounts are available. For more information, visit www.pivotgroundcafe.com and www.themoonlightsmusic.com.