Review Summary: Thank You Scientist?
It sounds like the sort of scam Del Boy and Rodders would have dreamt up; a ‘scientifically proven’ sleep aid album that’s actually just an everyday ‘whale music’ chillout disc with a flash new sticker on the front. Absolute kosher me ol’ China, lovely jubbly. Sure enough, this experimental release from veteran DJ and Ibiza staple Tom Middleton does have the message ‘do not listen to while driving or operating machinery’ fixed to it’s CD jewel case, and so the urge to ridicule is hard to hold back. Only two things can halt such cries of cynicism; evidence this project is genuinely recognised by the science community coupled with proof that it, y’know, actually ends up working for most people. On the first count, a cognitive scientist has already voiced her support for our Tom and more than this there’s a bona fide peer-reviewed paper a-comin’ soon. On the second count it’s too early to know of course, but as someone who does enjoy falling asleep to music on the regular I can already tell the sounds contained within certainly wouldn’t actively stop me from falling asleep - and that’s always the first hurdle.
So what are these magic sounds? Well, for the most part science seems to have affirmed what we’d all have suspected anyway; washes of electronic ambience, frequently mimicking natural wave or pulse type sounds, and the occasional soft piano chord are what you’re looking for. As someone whose favourite sleep-inducing albums of all time are the noisier and far denser ‘Does it Look Like I’m Here? ’by Emeralds and the ‘wall of fuzz’ that is Fennesz's ‘Endless Summer’ I was hoping something more ‘out there’ would have resulted from all this research. No, science hath spoken and what you want is a rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute, a perfectly neutral sound palette and a very VERY slowly evolving cycle of change. The one surprise factor I’ve encountered is that even after only a few listens I’ve already formed positive associations and a certain nostalgic bond to these tracks; a minimal soundscape, despite not being particularly melodic or ‘songful’, can still activate those pleasure responses you traditionally associate as being purely ‘musically derived’.
It’s difficult for an assessment of the contents of this release not to come across more like a ‘product review’ on Amazon than a music review. The compositions are what they are; built for purpose. The only track I’d reach for other than for the relaxation benefits would be the delicate ‘Relax 2 (Lake)’, but really, this isn’t what I’m judging here. The way the UK press has responded with amazement at the idea anyone would choose to listen to music to help them fall asleep makes it clear that a huge swathe of the populace of this country (and most likely around the world too) don’t ever think of listening to music in bed to switch off, lower their pulse rates and fundamentally let it all fucking go. For promoting that message alone this is a worthy release.