THIS TIME, IT’S SEASONAL: SIX CHRISTMAS-ISH LISTENS
Noddy, Lewie, Bowie. Elvis and Ella, crooners and swingers – we wheel them all out for Christmas, and rightly so. It’s CHRIIIISTMAAAS, innit? But outside of all that, which non-jinglers best fit the wintry build-up to Christmas? Who creates the mood for a warming dark rum and a soundtrack for snow, even if there isn’t any?
Here are some of my go-to festives. Warmers and coolers, all seasonal. What are yours?
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.
NICK CAVE AND WARREN ELLIS – White Lunar
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.
BOB DYLAN – Tempest
Gotta have some Dylan at Christmas. Not youthful early-peak Dylan, but something more weathered, cracked and fallible instead. Crackling Bob. Time Out of Mind always works when winter nights shorten the days, but this year it’s Tempest’s fireside feel that’s snuck its way in – must be the light jazzy blues swing that shuffles through. Not every track is essential, but you CAN imagine Duquesne Whistle soundtracking a snowy trudge home after a warming short in the pub. Scarlet Town and Tin Angel give you the storyteller view from a window seat. Dark roots. Yeah, Tempest goes down well – pour another rum.
ROBERT PLANT – Band of Joy
Does a similar job to Dylan’s Tempest, but given that Plant is The Man round these parts, it’s much more of a player. What makes it a listen for this time of year? The camaraderie, the togetherness, the organic warmth in the production… Angel Dance might share some of Duquesne Whistle’s jaunt, but it’s the ethereal dark of the Silver Rider and Monkey covers – and Central Two-O-Nine‘s rustic free-wheel – that really put a wintry seal on things.
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 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.
MYRKUR – Mareridt
Far less metal than its predecessor, Myrkur’s second album haunts beautifully – check Crown and tell me there’s no snowscape coming to mind. Tracks like Bornehjem and Death of Days might not be Christmas family crackers, despite being free of metallic axe, but wait for the ice of the post-festive comedown. Surely Myrkur can score that?
To be continued? Probably. HAPPY ROCKIN’ CHRISTMAS!