Neil Cowley – Sleep Year

Neil Cowley is best known as a pianist, and an accomplished one at that, having been treated as a prodigy in his youth, and seeing commercial success in the aughts and 2010s with his Neil Cowley Trio. Even if you aren’t familiar, you’ve probably heard his playing as a session musician for people like Adele and Emeli Sandé.

In 2018, the Cowley Trio went on hiatus, and Cowley announced he’d be focusing less on piano in his music, in favor of electronic instruments. In 2019, he put out a maxi-single that I loved called DFAM (presumably named after the endlessly inspiring Moog percussive synth). Respect to anyone for branching out sonically, but for as gifted a pianist as he, I’m glad it wasn’t long before the piano reemerged as the central voice in his music. In 2020, he released the first in what became a six-part series called Building Blocks that aimed to chronicle his reconnection with the piano and place it in the context of his broader influences, including electronica and ambient music.

At the end of February, Cowley released the sixth and final volume of the Building Blocks series. He describes the music on this record as an attempt to bridge the gap between the euphoria of the electronic music he might dance to all night and the personally fulfilling quality of the music he’d listen to on the couch to recover from one of those nights. For many, I think this will strike more as home listening unsuitable for a night out, but nonetheless it’s still a noble attempt to meet in the middle. More importantly, it’s one that has yielded music with an exciting level of detail without becoming academic or particularly noodly. This is music that has a beautifully recuperative quality—it’s intelligent, but gentle—which is exactly what I need lately. The fifth song on the record is titled “Sleep Year.” I just need to say that sleep year is what I want so desperately right now. This past year with a toddler has been awake year.

Building Blocks pt. 6 is out now on bandcamp, or for streaming.

Neil Cowley – “Deep Affliction” (bc)

Neil Cowley – “Herald” (bc)

Neil Cowley – “Sleep Year” (bc)


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