Saturday, February 9, 2013

Winter: Winter Kills

Yaz: Winter Kills


I was a true child of the eighties alternative movements, absorbing everything from Depeche Mode and early U2 to the proto-grunge movement on my path towards adulthood. And as with so many generational moments, the canon was clear: though I wouldn't have known to call it British synthpop, Upstairs At Eric's - the debut album from short-lived but highly influential UK duo Yazoo, known as Yaz in the US - was a staple of my earliest collection, as it was for every friend I had, and the snow-white cassette traveled everywhere with me, through jamband and folkphases, until its presence in my life became first anachronistic and then, finally, ironic, right before the tape disintegrated, and its songs became just one more part of the history of us.

There's many, many songs in my collection about winter, truly. Some masquerade as parts of the holiday canon, whether or not they mention Christmas, but most use the still season as both metaphor and setting: of death, and the suffering of stasis which snow and ice bring. And of these, there are easily a hundred or more which better reflect the way I listen now: Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson's Winter Song, for example, or Patty Griffin's Icicles - a terribly underrated deep cut from 2004 album Impossible Dream - or any number of covers of Gordon Lightfoot's Song For A Winter's Night.

Too, most of the Yaz songs which made them famous are bouncy and playful; it's easy to see how, too, when you remember that primary songwriter and synth-player Vince Clarke, who represents one half of the Yaz duo, came from Depeche Mode to Yaz, and would move on to found Erasure just a few years later. But there may be no better song in my archives which better paints us into the quiet desperation of winter the way I experience it today, writing these words in a bubble, in a state where the Governor has outlawed driving, and the drifts cover the doorways like fog and smoke. Listen, as the slow, muted pulse of snowed-in thunder, the tinkling of icicle piano fragments, and the gutsy, soaring vocals of trapped and snowblind contralto Alison Moyet put you in your rightful place - in a world where hubris is anathema to the human condition, and mother nature wins all draws.

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