Five Songs for Winter Year of Two Winters

It’s mid November (how did that happen?), but as Glasgow residents will know, winter here lasts from October to about March. I like winter – although I prefer it drier than Glasgow’s – which has so far plunged the city into a cycle of continuously grey skies, intermittent mild rain, and absurdly violent wind.

Thanks to my upcoming travel plans, I am calling next year my Year of Two Winters. I will live through a Northern and a Southern Hemisphere winter. This will include a short spell in Iceland on the cusp of the Arctic circle – because why not? 4 hours of sunlight? Thanks to my night shift job here in Glasgow that’ll be more than I’m used to seeing.

It occurs to me that music is kind of seasonal. Often songs or albums are defined by when they are released, or when they reach prominence – for example if they’re attached to a film or television show. Sometimes it’s when you experience it, when it becomes part of your life. Other times there’s something about the song itself, some mood or theme. There’s a seasonality to the human experience, particularly here in the Northern Hemisphere, and for an introvert like me, Winter is more my speed.

Obviously there’s Christmas – which I enjoy, despite all rumours to the contrary – but there’s some deeper quality about Winter that appeals to me. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but it softer, more poetic, more reflective.

Here then, are five songs that suggest these kinds of qualities to me.

Siskiyou – So Cold
from Keep Away the Dead (Constellation, 2011)

Not to keep beating this particular drum, but in early 2012, Colin Huebert’s band Siskiyou became the soundtrack of my life for several months – through most of the winter in fact. In the space of a few months I had had my whole world shaken apart, and the repercussions of that still linger years later. This music represents a kind of solid ground in a time of turmoil.

Continue reading Five Songs for Winter Year of Two Winters

Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls Profound Lore Records, 2015

As an amateur noise enthusiastic, I was vaguely interested in Dominick Fernow’s main project Prurient back in his long-haired howling feedback with a microphone and an amp days, but it wasn’t until the seminal Bermuda Drain that I became enraptured. Bermuda Drain was basically a darkwave/noise crossover record, and I was very into it.

Frozen Niagara Falls feels like a magnum opus for Prurient, his The Beatles moment if you will, although you probably shouldn’t. Everything is laid out on the table here, pulling from every influence into a cohesive whole. This gives the album a structural ebb and flow that imbues a strange sense of formal beauty to its moments of extreme and unrepentant ugliness. It’s expansive, excessive, transgressive – and it’s hard not to be impressed by it.

Frozen Niagara Falls is particularly cinematic in its depiction of darker human emotions, with murder, pain, desire, lust, and resentment the thematic order of the day – often at once in a seizure of cognitive dissonance. Despite its abstract nature, it feels nakedly truthful. Apparently Fernow moved back to New York, and this feels very much like a New York kind of darkness. Imagine Woody Allen’s monologue at the beginning of Manhattan being written delivered instead by a nascent serial killer.

As on Bermuda Drain, the catchy arpeggiated synthlines dancing through a lot of these tracks are often overpowered by pounding trashy percussives, angry screaming vocals, and good old fashioned white noise and microphone feedback. On other tracks, we find Fernow returning to his noisy roots, screaming through pure microphone feedback.

The best surprise here is just how many moments among that drift into ambient electronic and even acoustic influences, tracks like Jester in AgonyGreenpoint, and Christ Among the Broken Glass offer moments of quieter, more reflective darkness.

In spite of this, it would be difficult for me to recommend Frozen Niagara Falls to most people. If you’re looking for an exhausting, revealing, and frankly caustic sonic experience, then pop this in your earbuds and walk around a city at night, scowling.

Björk – Vulnicura One Little Indian Records, 2015

I realised a couple of years ago that I quite like Björk. Of course, I only realised this after I had already accidentally collected every one of her non-soundtrack albums. This is the kind of weird situation I find myself in sometimes when I buy more records than I can actually absorb in reasonable time.

Vulnicura is a dark and personal album about love, divorce, the breakup of a family, and the most absolute form of existentialist separation. On paper, it seems like one of Björk’s least accessible albums, with only two of its nine tracks running less than 6 minutes, and each of them bearing only the vaguest semblance of pop song structure. The metaphor of a broken life is manifest in the music, which is dissembled and slowly pieced back together in various configurations one after another, in a desperate search to find cohesion, and perhaps a way forward.

That being said, the album does feature the familiar electronic/orchestral hybridisation that has become her signature. There’s plenty of little explosions of jittery beats and electronic bloops dancing around a haunting string section that, with only a couple of exceptions, is the core of proceedings throughout. It’s all very neoclassical.

It’s refreshing how nakedly emotional Vulnicura is – from its controversial and rather on-the-nose artwork depicting Björk with a gaping vaginal chest wound, to the brutally frank lyrics and vocal performances, to the intricately arranged strings.

If you want Björk’s quirky electronic pop music, this maybe isn’t the album to go to. While it’s not a difficult listen, it doesn’t exactly make things easy. Vulnicura is a deeply personal piece of work, but if you’re willing to engage with it, you’ll find it’s one of the most interesting and cohesive moments in her entire career.

Jeff Bridges – Sleeping Tapes Squarespace, 2015

Sleeping Tapes is – get this – an ambient spoken word concept record from Jeff Bridges, noted actor and all round cool dude, in collaboration with prolific composer Keefus Ciancia. Created as a website/album for a Squarespace ad campaign and sold on a donation basis, its profits go to Jeff’s charity campaign, No Kid Hungry. It’s also one of the most profoundly surprising and compelling albums I’ve heard in an extremely long time.

Although presented as a sleep aid, these Sleeping Tapes are actually more interesting when you take them as a warmly absurdist meditation on sleep, imagination, storytelling, and the everyday cultural rituals surrounding them. Or if you’re less pretentious than me, you might want to think of it as Jeff Bridges rambling over a discount relaxation CD you’d find on a revolving white stand in a gift shop.

The music here is actually surprisingly compelling – drifting dark ambient textures hanging in the middle distance, gently enveloping Bridges’ monologues. Mostly sweet and relaxing, but occasionally drifting into a dense sound collage.

“Sleep Dream Wakeup” is a dark early highlight that recalls the likes of experimental titans Coil. This track subverts expectations by being completely terrifying – but don’t worry, Sleeping Tapes is not a big prank on Jeff’s part to lull you into calm and then scare you to death. Although it can be a little unsettling at times, it’s not at all a stressful record.

As it mellows and and settles in, the middle of the album transitions to a handful of short bedtime stories, before we hit the albums’ undoubted centrepiece, a delightfully fantastical narrated tour of “Temescal Canyon”.

The higher tier version of the album comes with a bonus “disc” of mostly instrumental dream-like dark ambience called Sleep Further that is worth the price of admission alone for ambient music fans. If you’re just in it for the soothing voice of the world’s coolest human being, you’ll be well served too. I ask you, who would you rather experience trying to lull you to sleep than Jeff Bridges?

Torche – Restarter Relapse Records, 2015

While I couldn’t help but fall in love with Torche’s previous full-length, Harmonicraft, that record did represent a conscious shift toward the band’s poppier and more accessible influences. Despite the warm day-glow punk euphoria of that album, the lack of their signature crunchy “bomb string” guitar was noted with some sadness.

Their Harmonslaught single from that same year more than made up for that absence – and this album doesn’t disappoint on that front either. Restarter quadruples down on a low end heavier than antimony and lead without sacrificing their soaring melodic sensibilities. If you do want some bomb string, you’re in luck, but even without it the songs here are thicker, sludgier, denser than ever.

The resulting album is notably a more fatiguing and less varied listen, but it’s rewarding because of its shift back to the band’s bone-rattling, earthquake-rousing roots. Pieces such as “Minions”, “Blasted” and the closing title-track are particularly wonderful fully saturated heavy metal pop gems.

You know what? It’s all fucking great.

Pyramids – A Northern Meadow Profound Lore Records, 2015

Recently some mainstream folks have been really excited about Deafheaven, a kind of indie/shoegaze-inflected take on black metal that undeniably has its merits. Personally I don’t really get the big deal. There have been bands doing interesting and more palatable versions of black metal for years, and they haven’t risen to the same level of indie exposure.

One of those bands is Pyramids, whose latest release A Northern Meadow seems to have struck a compelling new balance between more overt black metal influences and their earlier dreamy ambient leanings.

Whereas their self-titled was a weird washy mess of endlessly reverberating abstraction, A Northern Meadow dials back on the reverb just enough that you can make out the songs buried underneath this time, with all their darkly melodic guitar lines and washed-out dream-pop vocals rising from some half-forgotten memory that never really happened. There are prominent programmed drums driving the songs, but the hazy ambient electronics generally take a supporting role behind the guitar riffs this time.

All this new relative clarity reveals the band’s uncelebrated talent for writing cool metal songs. Interesting harmonic twists and turns abound, as chords shimmer in and out of consonance. Two back-to-back highlights include “I Have Four Sons, All Named for Men We Lost to War” and the delightfully melodramatic “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye”.

For some someone like me who loves elements of black metal but finds most traditional black metal to be unfathomably dull, A Northern Meadow strikes a near-perfect balance between styles. I guess I’m only interested in the hipster version of black metal, huh? Anyway, this is a fantastic and engaging effort from a strangely underrated band, that I didn’t see coming.

Siskiyou – Nervous Constellation Records, 2015

The music of Siskiyou hit me in an unexpected place a few years ago, and it continues to do so. It’s somehow been four years since the last release, and three years since I first picked up their self-titled.

Reading the story of Colin Huebert’s recent health troubles with sound sensitivity, you might think Nervous would somehow be a quieter record than the previous two, but it’s actually a bit louder, leveraging bolder, more bombastic arrangements than before. The album’s title is pretty on point though – Nervous is an album of frayed nerves.

It’s a deeply personal recording, dealing with fear, paranoia, anxiety, and simple day-to-day human struggles. These songs are on all set on edge, with jittery guitars and vocals whispered on the verge of a scream. That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom all the time – there are a couple of more upbeat tracks in the mix. Personal highlights include the pop-inflected “Wasted Genius”, the scathing and bitter “Jesus in the 70s”, and the unconventionally anthemic “Imbecile Thoughts”.

Siskiyou’s earlier folksy leanings are somewhat muted on Nervous in favour of a more indie-rock sound – a necessary evolution perhaps, but the resulting album doesn’t scratch exactly the same itch for me that the first two did. Still, I find myself just as painfully in love with Siskiyou as ever, whatever shape they pour themselves into.


Hey. So you remember how I was all like “yo, loads more content coming soon!” just recently? And did you notice that there hasn’t been all that much new content here?

It’s not because I’m lazy. Well, not just because I’m lazy.

There’s a bunch of nearly finished posts sitting in drafts, but I’ve been working 12 hour night shifts since the end of March, overtime, trips home and blah blah blah. Excuses, excuses, I know. The truth is, I just haven’t had the time.

Continue reading Excuses

The Islay Beefcast – Epsiode 05 "Was it everything you'd expected it to be?"

Hey, you remember the Islay Beefcast, right? That podcast Murray and I produced several episodes of in 2011? No? Well, it’s back, even though we’re an ocean apart, thanks to the magic of Skype.

The Islay Beefcast logo

We’re going to be releasing this thing on an irregular basis. It’s just for fun, some honest chit-chat.

This week Murray interviews me about my time in Canada, and my poor life choices. We go a little deep on this one, and sometimes it wanders into uncomfortable territory. There was some stuff I was going to edit out, but I ended up editing it back in. It’s honest, if nothing else.

Apologies if the sound quality and presentation is not up to scratch, we’re still working on streamlining the technology.

Now & the Near Future

This week has been fairly crazy and weird as it is, but I’m also excited to announce to my several readers that after a year of making do with, I have returned to self-hosting wordpress. The site is still where it was before, it’s just slightly more swag, as the kids probably said five years ago.

As a result of the switch I’ll be able to give the site a proper refresh and design overhaul that it’s in need of. I’m probably not going to do a full custom theme or anything too elaborate, just tweaking here and there. I’m trying to improve my writing style, and that includes breaking up text with pictures. You know, making more compelling content. This will be an ongoing project of course, so I’ll tweak a few things, you know, experiment.

The move also gives me more storage space and flexibility, not to mention plugins for exciting content stuff that’s in the works (more on that soon).

The migration process was a little rough for an hour or so there, but I kicked the Internet a couple of times and it finally worked.

This is all secondary to what’s really happening.

Continue reading Now & the Near Future