Anyone who has ever considered music to be part of their life at any point has at least a few memories of their environment and their chosen music combining to become something greater than the sum of their parts. I remember listening to …And Justice For All in a dark and warm room whilst in the corner of my eye I could see snow falling outside, mounting against the window. I remember listening to Blackwater Park at a camp site I worked at, with brown and grey leaves swirling past and mud slushing underneath. I remember listening to Bert Jansch staring into a woodland fire under a canopy of pines as rain poured down.
It’s these memories, in part, that led me to spending the last 18 months refining a summer playlist. With my Walkman finally going to the great electronics graveyard in the sky (read: to the ‘why did I buy this?’ section of the top CD rack shelf) the iPod that has replaced it has given me the liberty of creating a playlist as long as I like. So I’ve spent that time choosing, testing and ordering tracks in an attempt to reach the perfect musical high as I lay in the sun drinking a beer in the late afternoon/early morning. Of course, living in England, this behaviour is restricted, optimistically speaking, from May to September. Then winter arrives (Autumn tends to get cancelled). So a winter playlist is in order, to follow on from the great success of the summer mix. But as I turn my hand to choosing tracks, I have a think, and stop. The winter weather just isn’t as conducive to creating a mix. Whereas the feel–good, fast–living and long–lasting days of the summer perfectly suited a Red Hot Chili Pepper live jam rolling into Black Tusk followed by some Down, and so on for the next three hours, the harsh winter weather places me in a less insouciant frame of mind. Introspection and absorption become the standby mood, and I find the best musical accompaniment for this disposition to be long, dark albums. I suppose the sense of continuation becomes more fixed, so sure, you could make a playlist of Agalloch going into Wolves In The Throne Room going into Shrinebuilder and so on. However, considering that these artists have created albums that already have a very strong, dark ambience, albums that work best experienced as a whole, I think to pull these pieces of music apart in an attempt to create some kind of better combination misses the point, and may even be an exercise in folly. Winter goes nowhere fast, and it’s dark so much of the time I feel much less impetus to be active.
Likewise, much as an environment can be enhanced by music, music can improve an environment, and its less enjoyable aspects (rain, cold, wind, mud, darkness, you know the score) can suddenly become quite rewarding. So sitting and listening to an entire album, whether inside or outside, and brooding, seems like a good way to spend the time. This isn’t to say I don’t listen to albums in their own right all year round, but I suppose more of an innate connection exists between the nature of winter weather and that of heavy metal music. That said, it’s not just metal albums that are particularly enjoyable in these conditions; Joy Division, Bob Dylan and The White Stripes are three examples that spring to mind. So over winter I’m going to listen to albums I think suit the season, hopefully both inside and outside, and see what happens.