JANUARY MIX by Jeff Jackson
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How to Conjure an Endless Night
The new year has started, bitter winter winds have descended with a vengeance, and the daylight evaporates before the workday is through. It’s time to embrace the long nights ahead of us and find ways to navigate a landscape of unbroken darkness. The narrator of my novel Mira Corpora struggles to do just this — with mixed results. Sometimes I think our problem is that we fight too hard against the shadows. We need to summon a darkness of our own making. So we can dream its dreams. Luxuriate in its rhythms. Here’s a mix to help you conjure an endless night.
1. Blind Willie Johnson, “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground”
To start, the best invocations are the simplest. This wordless and bereft blues from Blind Willie Johnson is just humming and slide guitar — but it remains as potent today as when it was recorded almost a century ago.
2. Dr. John, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” (Song wasn’t on Spotify so listen to the YouTube instead)
Once you get the feeling, you need to add more juice. When Dr. John recorded his great Gris Gris album, he was accused of playing hoodoo shuck-and-jive for the tourists. Purists were offended “Gilded Splinters” featured ceremonial chants and funk grooves. The Good Doctor proclaimed himself a big zombie, filled his brain with poison, and channeled visions of dead enemies. He understood you can be both show biz and voodoo, faking it so real you’re beyond fake.
3. Brian Eno, “In Dark Trees”
This brief instrumental has always been a favorite. There’s a sense of entering a trance and starting out on a journey, maybe threading your way through the mysterious forest of the title, your feet slowly starting to lift off the ground.
4. Family Fodder, “The Big Dig”
Things grow stranger. Yes, this is a reggae version of Erik Satie’s classical piano composition “Gnossienne no. 1.” This track is more than a novelty, it’s a beautiful piece of music that’s also profoundly disorienting.
5. Public Image Ltd., “Careering”
The loping bass of “Careering” propels you onward, whether you want to continue or not. This unholy combination of punk and dub sounds like a dispatch from a remote shadowland. “There must be meanings beyond the moanings,” John Lydon sings. You’ll have to find out.
6. Big Youth, “Screaming Target”
The moaning turns to screams. Big Youth hasn’t slept in days and watches Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry on repeat until the line between film and reality grows porous. It’s paranoid and unhinged, but also kind of sweet. One of the temptations of how to spend the night.
7. Screwed Up Click, “Red, Part Two”
Your mind can play tricks on you in the dark. Voices stretch like taffy, echoing and repeating. It’s hard to tell who’s saying what and whether that’s your own voice deep in the mix. Eventually this feeling can seem addictive. You hope it’ll never stop.
8. Miles Davis, “Rated X”
Then there’s times when the horror comes. Miles Davis swaps out his trumpet for a distorted organ to create a relentless and shuddering soundtrack to… what? There’s menace and sleaze in here somewhere, but you’re too afraid to look closer.
9. Nico, “We’ve Got the Gold”
A voice wafts out of the dissonant murk. “We’ve got the gold,” Nico sings. “We do not seem too old.” A nice thought, but not the way her stern accent intones it. Is this a consolation or a curse?
10. Nearly God, “Poems”
The night can also offer seductions. There’s tenderness here, the promise of something transcendent and gorgeous and maybe a bit perverse. The performances of Tricky, Martina Topley-Bird, and Terry Hall from The Specials are saturated with yearning for what’s never delivered, but it’s more than enough.
11. Little Willie John, “Need Your Love So Bad”
In the absence of light there’s also the promise of love, whatever kind you need. Little Willie John packs so much ache and longing into these two minutes that it may take a few listens to realize you’re being serenaded by a ghost.
12. Burial, “Night Bus”
The sound of something that’s been utterly hollowed out. In the daylight, it disappears altogether. But in the night, it still emits a faint and precious shimmer.
13. Broadcast, “Distant Call”
“Don’t let the shadows fall,” Trish Keenan sings. But she knows it’s far too late for that and her song is little more than a distant call. This is a lullaby whose tune is in danger of becoming lost during its transmission.
14. Cat Power, “Colors and the Kids”
Sometimes even the music leaves you. “It’s boring me to death,” Cat Power sings in the middle of her Moon Pix album. What she’s left with is a few chords she keeps banging on the piano in the hopes something might happen. She’s stubborn, she doesn’t try to make the song interesting, and eventually she starts to levitate herself.
15. Geechie Wiley, “Last Kind Word Blues”
Only a few recordings exist of Geechie Wiley, one of the greatest and strangest blues singers. She was almost swallowed by history, but her voice can still cut across the years. She’s comfortable facing down the last kind words she might ever hear. Consider her your guide through the void.
16. Sonny Sharrock, “Blind Willie”
Sonny Sharrock transforms his guitar into spools of liquid noise. It’s his tribute to Blind Willie Johnson’s wordless blues. The only possible ending is a circle back to the beginning.
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