x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Winter musical collection turns out lukewarm

It's tough to create a winter soundtrack when the UAE weather is joyful.

I used to live in Melbourne, where the first chills of winter were always a threat.

Sure it wasn't as bad as Canada or most of Europe, where sub-zero temperatures are the norm, but Melbourne's cold winds always had ways of puncturing layers of leather, cotton or wool before finally jabbing the bones.

While Melbourners purchased new scarves, jackets and other winter gear, I would pillage my record collection to create my latest winter soundtrack.

Since I was preparing a musical comfort-kit, the goal was to ensure the tunes (normally a triple disc set of 15 songs each) would carry me through those long, dark months.

Tracks were chosen based on musicianship, style, vibe and, unlike my summer compilations, which relied heavily on brainless riffs and volume in the style of Rammstein and Andrew WK, an emphasis was placed on lyrics to augment my reflective mood.

The results were a loose collection of folk songs and minimal electronica.

They may initially seem like odd combinations, but both genres compliment winter.

The intimacy of, let's say, early Elliot Smith, Grant Lee Buffalo or Josh Rouse records were warm and welcoming as a fireplace.

The ethereal sounds of Sigur Rós and Múm (or anything coming out of Iceland for that matter) helped in appreciating the wonders and sometimes alien landscapes that such weather created.

A successful compilation captures the season, which makes creating a similar compilation here in the UAE so frustrating.

The problem is that the UAE winter is a time of relief and joy. The former is due to escaping summer's volcanic temperatures, the latter because the biggest entertainment and cultural events are back from hibernation.

This is clearly not a time for bouts of introspection and brooding. Nobody wants to listen to Ron Sexsmith's beautifully skeletal Fool Proof when there is such joie de vivre in the air. Bob Dylan croaking "it's not dark yet but it's getting there", is not suitable in promising weather.

This resulted in a switch in my approach - creating upbeat collections during the winter and reflective collections during the summer.

It was a dismal failure as Damian Rice is way too depressing in the heat and Massive Attack's scenic route in delivering hooks induces tears of frustrations in 40° weather.

The only thing I can muster for a decent UAE winter soundtrack is the Aussie favourites Crowded House's greatest hits, a remarkable collection of bittersweet tunes.

Does it scratch my brooding itch? Perhaps not totally. Then again, some may argue this is probably a good thing.


Saeed Saeed is a reporter for The National's Arts & Life