Snow brings a bundle of emotions wrapped up in pillows of fragile beauty. The stillness of the garden, as flakes come to rest, silently, upon the lawn. The feeling of limbo, either stranded in the house or resorting to the lazy predictability of fireside conversations with comfortable friends in the pub. The lack of adventurousness, pitted against stirrings of the heart bereft of an adequate outlet. The realisation that the blank white mass will turn to mucky slush and glistening films of ice. Such is the stuff of a wintry playlist.
From the roaring ferocity of Yo La Tengo’s “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” we pass into the ethereal ambience of Bowie’s “Moss Garden”. “Do you get the same jokes as me? Do you get the jokes the same as me?” asks Todd Trainer on “Shoe Song” by Shellac, over a fidgety template of caustic, damaged strumming and ricocheting drums. The song dissolves into a punishing, red-zone peak of white noise before the brutal final act. “AND I MISS YOU!” screams Trainer, longingly, and then the violence is gone.
Reckless hedonism enters with the blissed-out vocal harmonies that introduce Spiritualized’s “I Think I’m In Love”. Jason Pierce feels “free, freer than DMT, but he is bounded all the same by his narcotic indulgences. As the song shifts into an organ-led vamp, Pierce’s tone becomes sneering, snorting with incredulity at his own snorting (and more). But we’re having a great time. Descending shimmers of strings add a degree of portentousness. “I think that you’re my dream girl!” he sings. The response is resolute: “Probably just dreaming.” The polyphonic, all-enveloping, interstellar tussle of “Dance Of The Pseudo Nymph” is just a passing coda of euphoria before paranoia sets in. The Antlers supply suitable metaphors for frustration in “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, as fluttering electronics encroach on duelling electric guitars. The finale, Peter Silberman’s impassioned moans fighting with a relentless passage of swirling guitar-led rage, abruptly cuts out—the dreamer wakes to a greater nightmare.
The final third is about dawning realisation and coping mechanisms. Woozy keys and lead guitar play havoc with Damon Albarn’s emotions on “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”. “I love the girl / But God only knows it’s / Getting hard to see the sun coming through,” he complains; after a brief verse of contemplation, the song really hits its stride, with Ike Turner’s wild and memorable piano-playing overlaid with crashing percussion, stabs of synth and brass, and an overriding sense of desperation. To finish up in such chaos would be cheating, though: instead, Gorillaz wind things up with the sound of a wheezing, dying machine and some spare handclaps. There’s some glorious piano in Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Messiah Ward” too. The insistent chords are like cascades of snow building up in great banks over fields. “You are a force of nature, dear,” observes Cave. Murmurings of mandolin and a one-note bass thrum add menace to the verses before crashing waves of piano return. “We can weigh all the tears in one hand / Against the laughter in the other…It’s easy if we just walk away” sounds a resignatory notes as the song rumbles on into a fadeout.
We end with a credits-rolling epic, Tortoise’s “Charteroak Foundation”. Natty triplets on baritone guitar float above a strident march of a beat. Cerebral synth chords promise a melting; as the guitar tone becomes warped and screwed-around, we instead get a meltdown. There’s a brief passage of triumph, but soon the decay sets in again, and this time it’s terminal.
Snow Wave is:
Yo La Tengo, “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”;
David Bowie, “Moss Garden”;
Shellac, “Shoe Song”*;
Spiritualized, “I Think I’m In Love”;
Flying Lotus, “Dance Of The Pseudo Nymph”;
The Antlers, “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”;
Gorillaz, “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”;
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Messiah Ward”;
Tortoise, “Charteroak Foundation”.
*Shellac’s music is unavailable on Spotify. Write to Steve Albini if that bothers you.