Sleeping Tapes, Reviewed

By Simon McMurchie ’15

“Sleeping Tapes,” as a concept, shouldn’t work. The elevator pitch isn’t all that attractive: movie star Jeff Bridges reads a collection of abstract poems over ambient background music for forty-five minutes.

The story of its development is strange as well; Squarespace, a website developer, approached Bridges and asked him to create a project and a homepage to promote their service. Somehow, however, Bridges imbues the project with a serenity and a coolness that makes for one of the most unique listening experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.

It all seems remarkably casual. In an interview, Bridges told Pitchfork that Squarespace provided him with a list of possible titles for his project, and that he happened to like the sound of “Sleeping Tapes.” He says as much, on the opening track, chuckling to himself, and muttering, “Sleeping Tapes, I love that idea. And all that it implies.”

Love, indeed, seems to be the primary emotion of Bridge’s day-to-day experience. A couple of the poems were written by poet friends of Bridges, but it’s his voice, and his small mannerisms, that inspire the individual tunes with a cheerfulness and appreciation that seems so unusual and profound.

That profundity is so central to the importance of the album, but it does not come, as is typical of poems and song lyrics, from large-scale images and attempts at describing the universe. Bridges seems much more excited by the prospect of recording a conversation with his granddaughter, playing in a playground (“See You at the Dreaming Tree”). Perhaps asking his wife to take a moment after waking up to give a message to the listeners (“Goodmorning, Sweetheart”). To Bridges, it seems, the little things are very important, and if experienced correctly, quite lovely.

Jeff Bridges, in sleeping glory. (Photo: SleepingTapes)

Jeff Bridges, in sleeping glory. (Photo: SleepingTapes)

Though Bridges has his own band, the music here is composed by a composer named Keefus Ciancia, whose sound might be most well known from the “True Detective” TV theme. It never gets too tangible, although at times quite strange, but not quite enough to annoy a listener. This is, after all, music made to fall asleep to. Still, things get far too interesting near the end to doze off. Having your eyes closed is enough; Bridges has an ability to speak with such descriptive simplicity that all seems to become clear. “The sea is under the sky. The clouds are in the sky. The sun is between the clouds.” His tone seems to make a point: this is all I know, and it is enough.

It seems important to mention that this is not a commercial venture for Bridges. The album is available to download (from dreamingwithjeff.squarespace.com) for whatever price the listener wishes to pay, including nothing. All proceeds go to No Kid Left Behind, a charity Bridges heads that seeks to provide food for youth in poverty across the country. Bridges might be the most agreeable activist I’ve ever been propositioned by. There are also collectible editions at various prices being auctioned off through Squarespace.

The tapes leave me hoping there might be more material in the future, and he has said in recent interviews he’d like to give it another shot. As he writes in the album notes, “The world is filled with too many restless people, in need of rest.” The philosophy of The Dude is just as relevant as it was in 1998, is conveniently uncomplicated. Everyone just needs some rest, and if they can, learn to abide.