Top Ten Albums to Put on When You’re Staying Up All Night, Alone, for no Reason
here are plenty of ways to stay up all night. Some are glamourous, or romantic, or even kind of cool. Some are dangerous (hello, methamphetamines!). When I was in first year university and living in a small concrete box in residence (which I liked, for the record), I’d occasionally decide to stay up all night for no reason at all.
Well, “decide” is such a strong word. It’s more that I’d be listening to music and doing something fairly brainless, such as playing FreeCell (9899 games won and only 2357 lost!) while I was supposed to be reading for class or writing a paper. I’d go so wrapped up in the music that the next thing I’d know it would be eleven in the morning and I’d crash and sleep through class. To do this without becoming consciously aware that you’re staving off sleep, though, you need to have the proper albums. The order in this list, then, is not so much merit-based as chronological: Here’s one way I spent a night awake for no reason other than inertia. All times are, by necessity, very approximate.
01. Superchunk - Indoor Living
You want to start off with something nice and solid that hits all the areas of your brain that respond to whatever your conception of good solid no-frills rock is. What that is varies widely from person to person, obviously, but for me the little-loved late 90s Superchunk album Indoor Living is perfect. Why songs like ‘Watery Hands’ and ‘Song For Marion Brown’ seem boring rather than epic to others is beyond me, but the point is you want to start with whatever is, for you, meat-and-potatoes like. I was raised on The Rock, and to The Rock I return.
02. Hefner - Breaking God’s Heart
But, you know, it’s getting late and you don’t want to slip on headphones yet. So you put on something quieter, still something you like but with no riffing. Hefner’s semi-folksy debut gives you lovelorn lyrics to pine to (in case that’s why you’re avoiding sleep) and plenty of hooks, plus the kind of spite and malice that’s just better at three in the morning (especially on the self-lacerating ‘Another Better Friend’). When you’re listening to music late at night you often get into stretches where you all want to listen to is something that gives you the same feeling as what you just heard, which is what the next selection is trying to do.
03. Josh Rouse - Home
I’m relatively sure that Josh Rouse and Darren Hayman from Hefner were around the same age when these two albums were made, but Home is definitely the more mature effort, an unabashedly late night album explicitly dealing with issues of soul-searching and lack of direction; if you’re doing this in first-year university as I often was, those are not foreign issues to you. The restrained, lovely palette Rouse uses on songs like the great ‘Laughter’ shimmers in night air, and he’s even thrown in a bit of Matthew Sweet style power pop (‘Directions’) to make you perk up.
04. Ed Harcourt - Here Be Monsters
Again, you’re looking at this point for albums to have the same sort of feeling you’ve been feeding off of for a few hours now. Harcourt’s mostly excellent debut is good for the way it bounces back and forth from hazy atmospheres (‘Something In My Eye’) to sophisticated pop (especially ‘She Fell Into My Arms’) and back again. But after the epic ghost story/love song/recrimination ‘The Wind Through The Trees’, you just hit repeat on that twice, skipping the weaker two last tracks. In the dark it’s even more spectral and enchanting than normal.
05. Mogwai - My Father My King
But after that, you’re beginning to go out of focus a bit. You need some noise. This means the headphones are going on. And what better to warm them up than Mogwai’s epic single track My Father My King? It’s too late for a similar work that takes 60 minutes at a time, but 20 you can sit through without zoning out. And after five minutes of build, you get what sounds a little like a plane going down. Searing, valedictory and ultimately violent, My Father My King wakes you right back up the fuck again.
06. Ash - Intergalactic Super 7”s
And now, of course, you want to rock. But your ears, since you turned Mogwai up too loud, would like a reduction in the noise. You want huge, singalong choruses and lyrics that, while they may speak to you, aren’t terribly complicated or distracting. You put on Ash, of course, who can do whatever they ant as long as they keep writing songs like ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’. Their unblemished 2002 greatest hits collection is the best option.
07. Spacemen 3 - Performance
I can trace the line from Ash to Spacemen 3, at least for me at 6 in the morning, very simply. Songs I love, with great choruses. Ash is done. What to put on next? Dude, ‘Take Me To The Other Side’. First time I saw Spiritualized, they played that track near the end, and it was fucking transcendent. But the record version is so compressed (at least on my version of The Perfect Prescription), so I turn instead to the live album Performance. ‘Take Me To The Other Side’ may be what sucks me in, but the whole album is great, and late at night repetition takes on an otherworldly quality. The last track here, a sixteen-minute rendition of the two-note burner ‘Suicide’, sends you into a trance. When it ends suddenly, you’re snapped back to awareness.
08. Primal Scream - Echo Dek
But now you’ve got a taste for the more outré rock around. You’ve done about all you can with the riff, though, you want something different. Adrian Sherwood’s partial dub of what is maybe the Scream’s least pop album, Vanishing Point, is very much something different. Some of the tracks are more conventional, but the two remixes of the already-nightmarish ‘Stuka’ (‘JU-87’ and ‘Wise Blood’) are enough after a night of no sleep to make you see things. And if you’ve come this far, you might as well entertain yourself.
09. Joy Division - Closer
But having gone dark, you always want darker. And Joy Division’s swansong Closer is almost by definition darker than anything you were listening to before. From the tribal pound of ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ to the almost unbearable gloom of ‘The Eternal’/’Decades’, this would all be harrowing even if you stripped it of all context. It’s not until ‘Decades’ fades, of course, that you notice the sun is up.
10. Weezer - Weezer (Green Album)
So now you’re in a quandary. You’re not going to class (you’d die), but you don’t really want to go to sleep yet either. You want to pop something on, something quick and punchy and upbeat to chase away the ghosts. I know lots of Weezer fans who hate the green self-titled album to various degrees, but I love it. Twenty-eight minutes of pure goodness, hooks crammed into every spare second on the record. In terms of pure pop goodness rather than emotional impact, easily the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s not really a return to their debut, as here the ten songs are stripped down to absolute essentials, but it’s an amazing piece of work nonetheless. And the closing run of ‘Simple Pages’/’Glorious Day’/’O Girlfriend’ is even more joyous than Closer’s ending was dour. Now that you’re in a good mood again, you can finally collapse.