The Universal Music Group Celebrates World Sleep Day

World Sleep Day 2022 takes place Friday, March 18.  To celebrate the occasion, the Universal Music Group (Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Mercury KX) has put together an amazing array of 30 tracks on 10 EPs, all centered around the theme of sleep.

The theme of World Sleep Day 2022 is Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World.  Hundreds of activities are planned around the world, but our favorite is the now-annual playlist, which owes a huge debt to Max Richter’s overnight concert (and expansive box set) Sleep on Deutsche Grammophon, our #1 release of 2015.  While this year’s releases can be enjoyed in 90 minutes (instead of eight hours), they have the same goal: to relax the mind and prepare the body for a healthy night of rest.

One of the pleasures of the season has been to collect all of the EPs as they have surfaced, akin to collecting Pokemon cards (“Gotta catch ’em all!!”).  New entries have appeared every week, with some absolutely gorgeous surprises.  To these ears, the best is Chad Lawson‘s “Slowed Remix” of Billie Eilish’s “when the party’s over.”  This song version highlights the melancholy of the original to a degree that Eilish herself might not have imagined, the miked piano delivering an additional source of intimacy.  Lawson follows this with his own “Stay” and “One Day You Finally Knew,” inspired by the work of poet Mary Oliver, as collected in the book Devotions.

Max Richter does appear, as the Blue Notebooks track “Written on the Sky” is performed by Gina Alice.  The pianist also includes a pair of children’s songs by Bela Bartok, each less than a minute long, a logical extension of her million-hit video rendition of “All Is Found” from Frozen II.  After Dark & Luminous Night, Norwegian pianist Ola Gjelio continues his evening theme with the two-track Planets EP, highlighting Saturn and Jupiter, what we suspect is the beginning of a journey through the solar system.  The sound is as soft as a planetarium or a children’s projection mobile.  Teddy Abrama looks even further, traveling to the stars on a “Steampunk Spacecraft” to see the beauty of a nearby “Nebula.”  His is the most active of the ten releases, but one needs to stay alert in deep space, for one never knows if an asteroid is about.

Canada’s Stephan Moccio anticipates the April 29 release of Decca album Lionheart with the four-track The Night Suite.  The gentle piano pieces stretch from “Owl Light” to “Dawn,” capturing the mood of a good night’s sleep.  “Midnight” is the most restful piece, taking its time and ending on a long decay.  Tom Salta‘s electronic-minded The Sleep Project may remind some of hobbits, with “First Sleep” and “Second Sleep,” the pairing likely referring to sleep habits before electricity: a first sleep at sunset, followed by sex and conversation, then a second sleep until dawn.

Some of our favorite artists appear on this collection, beginning with Sophie Hutchings and the always-endearing “Rainbow Connection.”  Her rendition is so personal that the opening hundred seconds seem like a new composition.  When the melody pours forth, the heart smiles.  Her Pure Imagination EP continues with “Alice in Wonderland” (with harp and “ahhs!”) and the title track (with strings).  At least the children will be getting some sleep tonight.  Balmorhea has continued an arc from the humble to the orchestrated and back again.  The triptych of “Intake,” “Solonales” and “Perhaps” is instantly calming, the middle piece like a burst of petals, as befitting its name, a light electronic sheen like water nourishing the roots of the piano.

Venturing into the world of strings, Peter Gregson offers “Mirror” and “Pause,” which melt away the anxieties of the day.  The cello’s gossamer notes waft across the speakers like dissipating clouds.  And while “when the party’s over” may be the project’s finest single track, Luke Howard‘s trio is the finest EP, a precursor to All of Us, releasing April 29 on Mercury KX; the EP includes a stripped-down version of one of the album’s tracks.  In addition, the composer offers the tender piano piece “A Bad Dream That Will Pass Away” and the string-laden “The Great Longing of an Unquiet Heart,” based on a sleep-themed quote from Camus.

Are we asleep yet?  There’s the rub.  When Richter presented his overnight concerts with beds, few people wanted to miss a single note.  These tracks may have been written to promote sleep and to accompany listeners to Slumberland, but the songs are worth staying up for.  Fortunately, each EP works as a midnight snack, a somnambulant break before second sleep.  (Richard Allen)

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