Sleeping Tapes is – get this – an ambient spoken word concept record from Jeff Bridges, noted actor and all round cool dude, in collaboration with prolific composer Keefus Ciancia. Created as a website/album for a Squarespace ad campaign and sold on a donation basis, its profits go to Jeff’s charity campaign, No Kid Hungry. It’s also one of the most profoundly surprising and compelling albums I’ve heard in an extremely long time.
Although presented as a sleep aid, these Sleeping Tapes are actually more interesting when you take them as a warmly absurdist meditation on sleep, imagination, storytelling, and the everyday cultural rituals surrounding them. Or if you’re less pretentious than me, you might want to think of it as Jeff Bridges rambling over a discount relaxation CD you’d find on a revolving white stand in a gift shop.
The music here is actually surprisingly compelling – drifting dark ambient textures hanging in the middle distance, gently enveloping Bridges’ monologues. Mostly sweet and relaxing, but occasionally drifting into a dense sound collage.
“Sleep Dream Wakeup” is a dark early highlight that recalls the likes of experimental titans Coil. This track subverts expectations by being completely terrifying – but don’t worry, Sleeping Tapes is not a big prank on Jeff’s part to lull you into calm and then scare you to death. Although it can be a little unsettling at times, it’s not at all a stressful record.
As it mellows and and settles in, the middle of the album transitions to a handful of short bedtime stories, before we hit the albums’ undoubted centrepiece, a delightfully fantastical narrated tour of “Temescal Canyon”.
The higher tier version of the album comes with a bonus “disc” of mostly instrumental dream-like dark ambience called Sleep Further that is worth the price of admission alone for ambient music fans. If you’re just in it for the soothing voice of the world’s coolest human being, you’ll be well served too. I ask you, who would you rather experience trying to lull you to sleep than Jeff Bridges?