As a child, I often fell asleep to a cassette tape spinning by my bedside. My circadian rhythm matched that lullaby mix, as it lulled me into a deep, calm breathing pattern, lowered my pulse, and took me into the blank mystery of sleep. I doubt there was anything truly special about it; it wasn’t crafted by well-known musicians or composed by sleep specialists. And it was eventually donated when I grew older, its need and technology obsolete. But at the time, its role was essential.
How often do we listen to music and feel truly spoken to and at peace, simultaneously? I’m not talking about “easy listening” or downtempo tunes. I’m not talking about the music that plays at a masseuse’s studio: waterfalls and warbling flutes. In the realm of music today, when is the last time you found an album you know you could listen to every night before bed? Not to fall asleep, but to place you in the moment before it. No phone in hand, no drugs in the bloodstream – simply your head on the pillow, and music in your ears.
Because since discovering Wilsen’s debut full length album, I Go Missing In My Sleep, I have done exactly that for the past week. And now I’m finding it hard to end a day without it.
Wilsen’s homage to stillness was composed during the brief moments before morning, when New York City’s still half asleep. Tamsin Wilson uses this borrowed, undisturbed time to thread poetic words with delicate sounds. What emerged is a set of songs that, like a dream, begins as if it has always been, leaves the eyes closed, and takes the mind on a journey worthy of repetition.
When else could one marvel at a centipede? Usually the stuff of nightmares, Wilsen’s first track takes a creature most people would rather smash with a shoe, and observes it with reverence. “Oh, I wonder how you move, your hundred little legs / I’ve never seen, them spin with such a grace,” Wilson begins, weaving her elegant, light vocals with the ambient, echoing guitar. For those familiar with the sounds of Daughter or maybe instrumental master Kaki King, this atmosphere is a welcome one.
Joined by Drew Arndt and Johnny Simon, the Wilsen reaches into self-described “moments of post-rock ambition,” as the album progresses.
And without a through listen, it doesn’t do justice to the ear. As a whole, it moves along like a wave, each sound and rhythm rising and falling, getting its place and time.
Maybe it’s because dusk and dawn, the moments when this music was conceived, are my favorite times of day. Or maybe it’s the light-hearted feel to what otherwise could be a melancholy, Daughter-like remake. If Elena Tonra writes her music at an hour of despair, between midnight and three in the morning, then Wilson wrote this masterpiece of morning between five and seven, when the sun is on the rim of the horizon. Constantly in the moment of promise, Wilsen finds that “worry turns to wonder” and “you don’t have to be alone” as the piano plunks playfully and the key shifts to something major in “Heavy Steps.”
But although Wilsen’s music is of a time related to sleep, it is not sleepy.
The energy is subtle, layered in through the movement of beats and introducing new instruments throughout. With dynamics that swell and fall, and emotion that builds and retreats in each song, the mind is not let off the hook. I’m reminded of electronic post-rock band Square Peg Round Hole, but toned down, when I focus on the instrumentals in “Emperor.” The percussive and instrumental work behind this straightforward release is intricate, complex. Engaging. Dreamy might be an accurate adjective for the music, but that does not mean bland or boring.
When the echoing piano tones begin on the final track, “Told You,” they might resonate farther through your body than just your eardrums. From the start, Wilsen sneaks in under your guard, finds its way into a deeper place inside of you over the course of the album with its low-key charade. So when the music breaks open just before halfway through the final tune, its impact is much more than expected. It’s the moment in a dance performance when the dancers pause – before breaking into a frenzy of leaps, jumps, physically daring feats and almost violent movements. A mental, musical sprint, that leaves you breathing more deeply at the end.
For me, the best music convinces me upon first listen that it has always existed in the universe, that it was meant to be.
And like a sculpture of stone, from a basic block it simply had to be shaped into its present form. I Go Missing In My Sleep sounds like the settling of stars into wave patterns, handpicked by these three musicians. The more I listen to it, the more I feel at one with the world and what’s beyond it.
And as a musician myself, there are moments when listening to music makes me want to write my own. Once in a very rare while, I think: “I want to make that.” Wilsen’s latest receives all of these personal honors. Yet I still simply feel honored to live in a world where I get to listen to it.