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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

10 Belligerent Songs That Will Scare Children into Leaving You Alone

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 11:24 AM


In Swann's Way, Marcel Proust spends roughly 5,000 words grousing about how calamitous insomnia can be. One can only imagine how much more monstrously prodigious and exhausting this rant would have been had the French novelist ever procreated.

There's nothing more vexing for a parent than a child who won't sleep. Adolescent sleeplessness can turn the most level-headed mom or dad into a complete aggro lunatic. I know; I've reached that point with my own little insomniacs.

Months of active bedtime resistance have left me desperate. I've heard of Old World grandmothers pacifying unruly babies with a few drops of the hard stuff, but I ultimately decided against such a course of action because I couldn't figure out if mine were single malt or blended malt kind of kids.

Getting my teeth cleaned recently, I blurted out to the dentist, "So if I wanted to borrow the ol' sleeping gas machine -- just for a week or so--how would I arrange that with you?" I've resorted to preposterous threats: I showed the kids James Mollison's engrossing book Where Children Sleep, which depicts adolescent bedrooms from around the world, and said, "See that poor kid in China who sleeps on a wafer-thin pallet on a dungy floor underneath a poster of Mao Zedong? That's what I'm going to turn your bedroom into if you don't hit the rack right now." I've even taken to reading them Proust at bedtime. Maybe I just need Samuel L. Jackson to pop by.

A number of major studies have shown that children get about an hour less sleep each night than they did three decades years ago. Earlier this year, Pediatrics published a study by University of Chicago investigators that said children who sleep less than their peers are four times more likely to have issues with obesity. Many sleep scientists also believe this lost hour can have a significant impact on a child's developing brain.

"We have an incendiary situation today," goes a recent quote from Dr. Matthew Walker, a professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley, "where the intensity of learning that kids are going through is so much greater, yet the amount of sleep they get to process that learning is so much less. If these linear trends continue, the rubber band will soon snap."

Yeah, either that or us parents.

Anyway, as I sat in my home office one night, plowing through a freelance assignment but having the creative process repeatedly dragged to a screeching halt because my kids are leaving their beds to inform me that they needed a glass of water, extra blankets, a twelfth kiss goodnight, the thermostat set to 71.3 degrees, two air purifiers, and rose petals scattered across their pillows, I thought I had stumbled upon a remedy. I cobbled together a playlist of soothing and somnolent music, songs that can provide the right environment to promote sleep -- Flying Saucer Attack's "Come and Close My Eyes"; Library Tapes' "And the Rain Did Fall; selections from Robert Rich's Drones and Trances, Loscil's Endless Falls, Japancakes' remake of Loveless, and Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings; a little bit of Nicolas Jarr, recently praised at Pitchfork for making great putting-your-daughter-to-sleep music -- but then decided to turn the whole endeavor on its head.

I made a playlist that would act as kid repellent. Spinning these ultra-belligerent songs, my children -- no matter how wired they were from insomnolence -- would come nowhere near me during bedtime.

1. Daniel Johnston, "Psycho Nightmare"

Daniel Johnston sounds equal parts frolicsome and menacing, like he's ready to leap from a closet and spook a just-tucked-in child. "It's just another psycho nightmare," he shouts over squalling, squealing guitars. "So don't you forget!"

2. Sun Ra, "Atlantis"

Sun Ra's 21-minute, densely layered space jazz epic feels like the soundtrack to a particularly vivid nightmare involving grotesquely large insects, house-leveling tornadoes, and a 30-foot-tall Gumby.

3. Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar, "Durgen Chugaa (Fast Talk)"

After hearing a broadcast of Tuvan throatsinging on his shortwave radio, blind bluesman Paul Pena taught himself the ability, which involves producing two to four pitches simultaneously. Pena became so adept he was invited by one of the world's best throatsingers, Kongar-old Ondar, to visit Tuva and sing in its triennial festival. Here, over khomus (a mouth harp) accompaniment, the pair produces vocal sounds that will make Western ears raised on Beiber and Beyonce quiver and shake.

4. Mount Vernon Arts Lab, "Percy Toplis"

Even my most mule-stubborn child would be driven from my home office and back into their bed by "Percy Toplis." It's 12 ear-shredding minutes of what sounds like a triggered building alarm.

5. The Residents, "Arctic Hysteria"

Howling winds, fingers plucking absently at a stringed instrument, savage group chants involving an invented language -- "Arctic Hysteria" simply chills the blood.

6. Virgin Prunes, "The Children Are Crying"

After all these years, Irish boogeyman Gavin Friday still gives me the heebie-geebies, so I can't imagine how unnerving he would be to a little one. "I hear the children crying," he speak-sings in mocking tones. "Tomorrow will never come."

7. Meredith Monk, "Dungeon"

Meredith Monk's trademark "extended vocal technique" incorporates overtone, throat singing, yodeling, keening, percussive sounds, and micro-tonality. On "Dungeon," this technique is on full display. At particular moments you wonder if she's being strangled by a lumberjack; at others, if she's been pitched headfirst off a steep cliff.

8. Alfred Lewis, "Mississippi Swamp Moan"

Alfred Lewis' sky-high notes on the harmonica accent his teeth-chattering banshee wail. Checking in at over 80 years old, "Mississippi Swamp Moan" feels extra unsettling thanks to all the clicks and pops.

9. The Books, "A Cold Freezin' Night"

The Books' "A Cold Freezin' Night" is constructed from salvaged audio tapes made on Tiger Electronics' Talkboy recorder. From the group's blog: "The primary tape that you hear in 'A Cold Freezin' Night' is a game of one-upsmanship between a brother and a sister (I think). Their conversation escalates until the younger sister has no choice but to drop the A-bomb." Some of the samples include the particularly demonic brother telling his sibling he plans on cutting off her toes, as well as blowing her brains out.

10. Der Plan, "Wenn der Sonne ist Vergluht"

Layered, processed vocals in the harsh-sounding Germanic language ... The kids don't stand a chance with Der Plan.

Dad Rock is a column in which Ryan Foley attempts to look at pop music and pop culture from the precipice of middle age. If he ultimately leaps, it's because tiny hands ruined his Galaxie 500 vinyl. Accusations that he's raising five insufferable hipster children can be sent to

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