Five Songs for Winter

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.

There was something about the intimate and slightly nervous energy of Siskiyou that helped me in some way then – and still does today. It was music that spoke to who I am, and where I was in my life. Sad music is important, but so is music that feels fragile and jittery, or to borrow a line from Talking Heads, born with a weak heart. That’s what Siskiyou feels like to me – the bold but unassuming expression of a nervous and introverted disposition.

And hey, I might as well kick this nonsense off with a song that’s literally called “So Cold”.

Everlovely Lightningheart – Yarrow Lophophora
from Sien Weal Tallion Rue (Hydra Head, 2009)

I’m a sucker for great evocative titles, and I’m a sucker for everything Faith Coloccia does, so how could I not love the late lamented Everlovely Lighteningheart? I’m honestly at a loss to understand how such incredibly, profoundly beautiful music as this comes into this world – all my own attempts to birth such things have led to ruinous failure.

This piece anchors around a simple repeating musical motif, but like much of EL’s output, that motif is set in the larger context of a dense swirling collage – of field recorded elements, crackling hums and drones, tinkling bells and percussion. There’s a kind of cinematic scope to Yarrow that’s overpowering. Sometimes it’s the world as viewed through a pinhole camera – vague silhouettes of tree branches drifting in and out of focus. And for me it speaks to the dripping of melting snow in short daylight hours, freezing again under the clear night sky.

Jesu – Comforter
from Everyday I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came (Avalanche Inc, 2013)

Jesu is the white shoegazey metal-pop demon that clawed its way out of the blackened broken body of the influential industrial beast of Godflesh in the early 2000s. There’s something about Jesu that I have always associated with Glasgow, that kind of bitter sense of post-industrial disillusion that still permeates the streets and pavements of this dirty old broken city. I realise that this comes from Justin Broadrick’s similar experience of Birmingham.

Justin Broadrick has said he saw Jesu as a vessel for his increasing confidence in his melodic and melancholic songwriting, and Comforter is certainly that. Imagine a lone figure walking nowhere in particular through cold wet streets as the dim street lights reflect off dirty puddles and illuminate nothing. That’s me listening to Jesu, probably. It’s slow and crushing, and conveys all the alienation and vulnerability of modern urban loneliness.

Kayo Dot – Immortelle and Paper Caravelle
from Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue (Robotic Empire, 2006)

I’ve seen Kayo Dot a couple of times live. The first time was in Glasgow. Half the band couldn’t get UK visas – forcing the rest of the band to perform a cut-down set featuring softer less drum-focussed material. I was stoked to hear them revisit their Tartar Lamb material, but that’s beyond the scope of my point here – that I was absolutely floored by their performance of Immortelle and Paper Caravelle, a song I hadn’t really paid much attention to from their troubled second.

The studio cut slowly unfolds over three minutes of icy hovering cymbals, roomy bass and suggestively abstract swirls of effected guitar. This gives way to a short and hushed song, Toby Driver’s barely mumbled voice over gently picked guitar, soft trumpet and violin. The song then recedes back into achingly mournful reflection. Its lyrics evoke that same romance of much of Kayo Dot’s work, but it’s more wistful and nostalgic in tone than the other pieces on this record.

Ironically the performance when I first came to love this song was in the summer.

Locrian – Eternal Return
from Return to Annihilation (Relapse Records, 2013)

Locrian are some kind of modern vaugely black-metal and post-whatever flavoured band from Chicago. A lot of black metal purists turn their noses up at cool music like this. That’s cool. They can take their dull church-burning, cassette-fetishising, facepaint-wearing, fake-viking, bandmade-murdering, white supremacist, self-enforced orthodoxy and go home.

Eternal Return does that shoegazey/post-rock dance of being instrumentally pretty, but obnoxiously loud, and noisy as hell. It’s a lo-fi wobbly buzzing soundtrack to the end of the world – or maybe to the world that ended and kept going? The video speaks of the cold empty concrete buildings of a devalued New Town, the cracked pathways and abandoned parks and canals – the Winter of a city’s lifespan.

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