After days of trying and failing this week, Cult of Luna‘s Somewhere Along the Highway finally got played in full yesterday. Glorious. But why the protracted arsing about just to play an album?

The conditions weren’t right. Nearly, but not quite. It is winter, which is a start. And we had the sub-zeros outside, finally. But it was also TOO BLOODY SUNNY every morning to do justice to Highway’s cold weight.

Winter music. Seasonal listening. Frosty bites. What gets you through?

Scratch that last question – it makes winter sound like the enemy, a battle to be endured and escaped from. It’s not. It’s Optimum Music Season. Short dark days and the great indoors are primed for music, books about music, and winter music selections.

This gives you every excuse to dig out some music specifically for the time of year and then agonise over exactly the right time to play it. You want to turn it into a 3-D experience: surround sound with seasonal mood and vision.

As we know, some albums just sound better at certain times. Not like there are any rules, rights or wrongs about it, it’s down to preferences. But, more than any other time of year, winter encourages this hibernatory Right Moment fixation.

For example, David Bowie‘s Blackstar and The Next Day (and a few other Bowie albums) are never bright-light listens, not for me at least. They’re autumn-winter affairs or soundworlds for the smallest hours. The dead of night? That’s when they’re most alive. Never the heat.

Henry Rollins touches on music’s relationship with time, season and place a lot in his books, and it’s one of the things that makes him a really good music writer. He writes as a fan, not a critic. You won’t get in depth reviews or high brow critical perspectives, he knows that’s not his space. But you do get words and fanaticism about buying music, playing music, what memories it stokes, when it got/gets played and what it soundtracks in life. And when you read this, you realise you’re not alone in your nerd-world musical indulgences. He’s out-nerding everyone, doing it for a living. It’s on a different scale. But it’s good to know because it validates your own quirks.

Back to the seasonal sounds, though. Which albums make for a winter-enhancing selection box?

It starts with the nice long seasonal build-up to Christmas. Childhood pop for the magic-of-Christmas mainline (Frankie Goes to Hollywood ALWAYS, some other pre-teen pop as well usually). Uncool 80s metal for another childhood link. Lyrical storytelling and sparse folk – Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Michael Chapman – for long nights, low lights and late mornings. Accessible jazz or blues, ditto. Post/Scandi metal for the harsher realities once the Christmas vibe is retired.

Seasonal music
Winter selection box

On top of that there’s a pull towards music that’s warm. Not sunny warm but intimate warm. Close-up instrumentation warm. Analogue 60s/70s productions warm. Late-era Beatles, that kind of stuff.

Something new that really tuned in to the 70s analogue spirit this winter was a 2021 album:

If Words Were Flowers by Curtis Harding.

Ho-lee shit, go check it. Ultra warm soul with just enough backbone funk to swing a tail. Gospel sweep and widescreen strings. Bass clarinet rasps and tenor sax uppers. Soft psychedelic fuzz. Hip-hop stiffness on the beats. And I dare you not be melted by The One‘s gentle heavy groove.

File near Mayfield, Axelrod, Kiwanuka? This might be glib and obvious (what did you expect) as a batch of references, and maybe I’m riding high on the first-plays thrill of a new discovery that’s fitting the mood, but it’s all we can manage right now. Haven’t even checked the lyrics yet.

Tip? Crank it up on a walk out in the frost. Soul with a scarf on.

Veering off now to a different thought:

When will Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do a winter album? Even wilder, what about a Christmas one?

Surely it would leap to the top of the seasonal stack with Low’s Christmas and the Sufjan Stevens box set. Quiet moods, small-watt ambience, ghost tales, long shadows – Cave & Ellis are surely built for this? COME ON FELLAS! Let’s get the rumour started. They’re a fixture in my seasonal listening anyway, might as well go full hog with an official St Nick Christmas Album.

Right, that’s it for now. Nice talking with you. See below for a few words on three winter aces, lifted lazily with no edits from a previous post. The sentiment’s the same.

BJORK – Vespertine

Top of the winter pops is Vespertine, always. Somehow, it’s the essence of snow in musical form, yet it doesn’t sound like it’s contrived to be a winter album – it feels like it just turned out that way. Hidden Place pushes against wind and snow drifts before the chorus sweeps you up and out, flying over white patchworks. Frosti, Aurora and An Echo, A Stain make for an especially frost-twinkled run of three, but the whole of Vespertine has a softness of sound that is flakes falling, ice forming. Magical. It only ever gets played at this time of year. That’s the deal.


Where Vespertine exposes your inner wonder to winter’s call, White Lunar tracks the harsh, bleak end of the same season – let your mind go with The Rider #2 or Zanstra and conjure a whiteout. Song for Jesse and Micro Sucker could have fallen from Vespertine’s branches, but really, it’s isolation and loneliness that dominate these heavy scores …. like Srey Leak, disc 2. Plug in for barren, wintry detachment from civilisation this Christmas.

CULT OF LUNA – Somewhere Along the Highway

Or Salvation. Or Vertikal and Vertikal II. But probably Somewhere Along the Highway. Less seasonal than the others here, but I always get more Cult of Luna in the diet in winter. Slow-moving, heavy and intense, the Swedish post-metal masters rarely waver far from their template and yet, like Mogwai, refine it pretty much every time they put a record out. This, their fourth album, may be their best. Dim soars to a higher mellow than they’d managed before, and Back to Chapel Town is a timeless snowbound pounder. Just get the whole album on, it’s a class act.

2016: the worst, the best

Festive salutations and a happy new year!

Hope the bigfella Claus delivered the goodies, but whatever delights came spilling out of his magic sack, 2016 was a tough gig. What a remorseless cull of rock and pop names, and it didn’t even break for xmas – George Michael on Christmas Day, Rick Parfitt on December 23rd. Surely there’s got to be a little bit o’ room for a little bit of Quo in everyone’s collection, so how about spinning a handful of harder-rocking SQ to celebrate Parfitt and keep the party going at the 12 bar, even if it’s only in your head? Mystery Song, Don’t Drive My Car, Over the Edge and Is There a Better Way will all do the trick.

So, another bit of chat about the music events and highs of 2016? We’ll list a few, right after the shortest of December Rewinds.


Nine Inch Nails came back in recorded form with a new EP. Not the Actual Events appeared earlier in December and a first listen to Burning Bright (Fields on Fire) shows Reznor and soundtracker-turned-bandmate Atticus Ross on slow-grinding, doomy form. More to follow in 2017?

SHOCK of the year

David Bowie. Not over that one, even a year later, and Blackstar is still a difficult listen. The upcoming new Five Years documentary in January will no doubt be the most fascinating, and the most emotionally-charged, of the lot as it covers his last years.

TRACK of the year

OK, so the track came out in 2015, but Bowie’s Blackstar is a highlight for ANY year, as is the re-tooled Sue (Or in a Season of Crime). Iggy’s American Valhalla and Nick Cave’s Anthrocene are right up there for edgy atmos. And for something more manic, Spit Out the Bone is on heavy rotation over here too – fast and melodic Metallica with Hetfield in his most convincingly aggressive voice since the Black Album.

MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep that you really should have gone to. And in Oxford a few weeks ago, that was Primal Scream. Why a no go? Fear of too much Moving On Up and Rocks and Country Girl, not enough Vanishing Point Xtrmntr Evil Heat aggro. What did they play? Moving, Rocks, Country, but also Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Swastika Eyes and Kill All Hippies. ‘KIN ELL… ludacris decision making on my part. Kiran Leonard also a bad miss.

LUCKY MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep by a band you don’t know but, coz of who’s involved, you’ve got innerest piqued. Step forward Honky, the band of Butthole Surfers and Melvins bassist Jeff Pinkus. Check the music online – not great. Reject gig. Wonder if gig ended up being one of those ‘should have been there’ moments. Check trusted review source (Nightshift page 10). It wasn’t.

NEW SOUNDS of the year

Still getting into these new-to-me discoveries, but semi industrial groove psyche dealers Blackash from Birmingham and Belgian avant noise punks Raketkanon are doing the job nicely, as are Blackstar band leader Donny McCaslin – beefy modern jazz with a drummer who absolutely kills it – and downbeat electroni-cists worriedaboutsatan, who also have their music making its mark in Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation. Lofty company for the satanworrieds. Three Trapped Tigers and The Comet is Coming brought explosive prog math and Heliocentrics-fuelled heavy beats jazz-ish respectively.

ALBUM of the year

The old guard put out a lot of great great stuff this year, and the top 3 are linked by maturity, mortality and death: Bowie, Iggy and Nick Cave reached new highs in heavy themes, and Blackstar is the peak. Once January 10th revealed its scalp,  Blackstar became forever more than just a record.

Others: FUCKINGMETALLICA, Mogwai, Melvins, Crippled Black Phoenix, Kandodo and McBain, Cult of Luna w/Julie Christmas, Thee Oh Sees

PRINCE of the year

Prince. ‘nuff said. Check this clip, worship non religiously, then get a music fanatic’s view of Prince’s passing from Henry Rollins in what is one of his best LA Weekly missives of the year.


Did you see this feature in the Guardian back in the summer? Fishbone. Yes, Fishbone. Why??? Don’t know. But if, like me, you never got round to actually buying their albums when Swim and Freddie’s Dead and Everyday Sunshine were doing the rounds, here’s the prompt you need to pick up The Reality of My Surroundings and Give a Monkey a Brain…. the only downside is the 20-odd years without these phenomenal heavy funk rock ska metal explosions tripping out the (monkey?) brain.

BIG 3 AT 30 of the year

Three of the Big Four put out their meisterworks thirty years ago: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, 1986. Anthrax shunted Among the Living out a few months later, in 1987… heady days for head bangers, right?  Some, if not all, are ingrained so deep that we don’t even need to press play, but when DID you last press play and listen to Master of Puppets, Peace Sells and Reign in Blood end to end?

There’s nothing to say about Puppets. It’s pretty much perfect and reveals much less on a new listen, precisely because it was THE album of that bunch. Some say it needs a remix but nah, leave it – keep the mud on. Peace Sells and Reign in Blood can still bring surprises, though. With possibly the best opening track of any major thrash record, Megadeth’s #2 sounds even more accomplished today, and you can feel the chaos darkening the vibe. As for Reign in Blood, this is still the anomaly because it’s the least metal of the classics…way more disturbing and a truly diabolical force summoned in 28 possessed minutes. Still deadly.

Happy new year, have a great start to 2017. ‘til next time!

Warsaw music tour

Record shops: two words that make a perfect pair. Always much more than spaces that sell music, record shops become spiritual Rough Guides in any town or city but especially when you go abroad. Map out a route of record shops and you’re already exploring. Track ’em down and your footwork orients you in your temporary new land: those stores become your compass, your inter-national grid, your urban ley lines.

But you need a start point so, remembering that one of his LA Weekly missives was about a trip to Warsaw, I checked the Henry Rollins LA archive and got the name of recommended shop #1. Add a DIY search online, grab a tip from some Warsaw insiders and lo, we have a short list. Time was nearly as short as the list so this summary is neither exhaustive nor extensive, but for the muso-fan Warsaw first-timer, it might just offer that all-too-crucial start.

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Find the Muzant sign and you find nothing. It’s all subterranea, see. You gotta descend, into a basement emporium of 2nd-hand CDs, records, videos and music-related gear. Do it. Good prices, high browse potential, spot on for back-catalogue gap fills across all genres. 

Q: Where is Muzant record shop?  A: Warecka 4/6

By far the coolest – and by that I mean, should I even be in here? – of the record shops today is Asfalt, a retail offshoot of the Asfalt hip-hop record label. Which probably explains why it feels too cool for neanderthalian guitar excess, but it’s an immaculate find. Step in off the street and you see a black-trim cafe bar with a nightclub vibe. Good coffee. Look up the stairs and there’s the store: small, clean, new and packed with vinyl. Not much in the way of rock, and even less much approaching METAL, but experimental-ish types get a look in, there’s a tonne of funk and jazz and, of course, a formidable array of hip hop, beats and electronica. 

Q: Where is Asfalt record shop?  A: Kredytowa 9

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The online forum gave the address as Tamka Street, but Vinyl Tamka has moved to Chmielna 20, dead near the city centre. The doorway is 7-inch plastered so you’re in no doubt that This Place Does Records, and inside you’ve got a vinyl-heavy selection. Plenty of rock, prog, pop, metal, jazz and beyond, and a stack of rarities and special editions showcased on the walls.

Q: Where is Vinyl Tamka record shop?  A: In the courtyard, Chmielna 20

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I mentioned Rollins at the start, and this shop is the reason – you can check HR’s write-up here. Narrow is the word: one aisle, left-to-right/front-to-back vinyl, two-way traffic on a single-track road. Loaded with flickability.

Q: Where is Hey Joe record shop?  A: Zlota 8

For the record (sorry), these are all worth finding and Hey Joe warrants a revisit by itself, but if there was one store calling me back that day, it was Asfalt – something to do with the label, the aesthetic and the sheer new-ness of it all. To go back and plunge into some unknown deep-cuts funk or gamble on a pristine cassette near the counter just kinda felt right. 

So, we did go back to Asfalt the next day. Saturday, 10am. 

It was shut. OK, no probs, come back two hours later. Still shut. EH??? Word was that the Asfalt bods had done a festival the night before and so hadn’t made it to the store yet…

I said I wasn’t cool enough, didn’t I?

Good coffee, though. Again.


(br)Exit music


Revolution blues? No way is this a revolution, despite some claims. No, it’s the referendum blues and we got a nasty, nauseous dose, but surely no such shitefest a title as Referendum Blues actually exists in song form so we might as well just stumble On the Beach, shakey and shaken, for a ditch-weary Revolution Blues by that man Young: sinister and unsettling, yet musically pure-as.

And while we’re rejecting faux claims, what about the Far-Age call for a brexit independence day? Independence from what, a consensual union that we signed up for? Fuckwit. There was an independence day this week though, and it’s an obvious thing to do but sometimes you gotta be obvious to banish the loony tunes and KEEP SANE… leap to the Superunknown and take in that low-end 4th of July chug. Soundgarden, yes. Music always wins.

Anyway… we need (a) soul to lift sunken spirits. But who?

HENRY ROLLINS, ON UK RADIO. Sitting in for Jarvis Cocker on the 6 Music Sunday Service for four weeks, he’s as pure an example of a music obsessive as you’re likely to hear and he’s got the tunes to back it up. Guerilla Toss, Ngozi Family, Soccer Team… who are these bands? And why do they all sound like they could be your new favourites??? Of course, Rollins has his inside-the-biz stories, but he also knows when he knows nothing, and it’s that counterbalance, that utter helplessness in the face of mind-blowing music, that make for some vital radio listening. You might still be able to catch a couple of episodes on the iplayer.


Rollins tracklist: old school iplayer

Right, time to get outta this short late unravelled-by-brexit Rewind. Could have said a few words about a new Melvins album, Three Men and a Baby – as satisfyingly warped-heavy as only Melvins know how – but, as of last week, it’s not the new Melvins album any more, is it? Basses Loaded just came out. Looks like Melvins will figure pretty heavily in the next few weeks.

’til next time!


A tad heavy, brothers


Record Store Day was the big news for April and the record shops are now getting back to normal, assuming they had a ticket to the RSD party in the first place. I put a few thoughts down meself in the last post but if you wanna chew on some no-messing wordage from someone with all the right credentials – music obsessive, full-time traveller, workaholic – check the fanatic, Henry Rollins, and his post last week for LA Weekly. Lean fat-free writing, as ever.

Best bit of new listening this month has been Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, a beast of a debut from a two-band Seattle veteran who’d not played music for five whole years until, one SoCal day driving on Interstate 805, the radio planets aligned and forced an epiphany somewhere around San Diego. The track? War Pigs. The epiphan-ee? Tad Doyle.

Now there’s a name to ponder, alongside a few others: Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Seattle. My confession is that aside from a split-cassette promo – Tad with Clutch, how good is that??? – from 1995, mes collection is shamefully Tad-less. Why? No good reason (well, student budget was probably the reason) so Inhaler, 8-Way Santa and the like are on that years-long list of stuff to look out for at CD fairs. Right now though, thanks to Terrorizer’s Feb interview, we’re here at the very start of Tad Doyle’s new era – and the future looks VERY solid.

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth turn out a primal, earthy blend of doom-rooted post metal, as you’ll know for sure when first track Lava comes hulking out the speakers like Megabeefus Neurosisus on a downhill run. Other tracks stretch out and hint at something bigger, more spiritual – check the quiet ritual summoned by The Immutable Path, or the Salvation-era Cult of Luna dynamics at play in Empires of Dust … no wonder Neurot Recordings were the Chosen Ones to cut the Brothers loose, for it is a mighty roar. Small band too – Tad guitar, wife Peggy bass, Dave French drums, that’s it. Keep track of all things BOTSC right here.

The last word in this Rewind is a word of honour for another three-piece:


And we are …???  Motorhead. Now added to the Glastonbury bill they will surely be greeted like the fckn heroes they are, so let’s hope that Lemmy’s strong enough to pull it off and bask in a sweaty all-conquering afterglow of motorheadoration. Illness meant the great man was a shadow with sideburns at Hyde Park’s BST last July, which was a bit difficult to watch, and he’s still looking gaunt if the pics in this month’s Metal Hammer are any indication. As he finishes the follow-up to 2013’s bristling Aftershock, he’s more aware than ever of his physical limitations so there’d be nothing more heroic and life-affirming than a Glastonbury shake-up by one of THE institutions in amplified rock and roll. COME ON LEM.

’til next time!