Cold sweat music

22:08, Nov 20 2012

Had my first listen to Scott Walker's new album, Bish Bosch, last night. It was late. I was up, alone, headphones in, checking out the album - all I'd had to go on previously was this clip. And that's the most energetic/lively piece on the album. The rest of it has the madness and intensity that you hear in that clip but more often there's no beat, no groove and plenty of weird turns. It's brilliant. Weird. Chilling. Intense.

I know I'll be playing it a lot more. But I would never try to force the album on anyone - it's simply not the sort of music you recommend to too many people. You have to know the music and the people very well to take that chance. But it will be no surprise to anyone who has followed Scott's career post-Climate of Hunter.

Anyway, more on that another time - I've only heard the album once. But it and Swans' latest, The Seer have both had me thinking of a phrase an old friend's father used. He talked about "cold sweat music". And he did not mean this James Brown tune. No, in fact he coined the term - at least as far as I was aware anyway - when we drove from Hawke's Bay to Gisborne listening to Pink Floyd. We played The Wall and The Final Cut back to back. His car stereo was used to The Very Best of Elton John but it got a serious workout on this trip.

We were teens and Tommy and The Wall were the movies we watched - and re-watched. And Pink Floyd and Roger Waters' solo albums were the important albums. There were other things to listen to, obviously. There was always loads of music - but Floyd was special; rite of passage stuff.

If my memory serves me well - and it's usually pretty good in this area - we were listening to Two Suns in the Sunset when my friend's father made the call about "cold sweat music". He'd lasted four sides of The Wall and both sides of Final Cut. And he made the call. It's stuck with me.

Whenever I listen to The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking - and that's never more than once a year these days - I think of that phrase. It's always had that baggage attached to it. But I always liked the image - that unsettling feeling of waking up in a cold sweat, possibly with some vestige of guilt clinging to the sheet, in some sense. It's momentary, it passes - but for that awful, uncertain moment Pink Floyd or Roger Waters (solo) is coursing. It might almost feel as if it's pumping through the veins - it's the dark, psychological score to some dark, psychological scar.

Recently a friend listened to The Wall for the very first time. He had avoided it for the 30+ years it has, thus far, existed.

It seemed a strange thing to want to listen to after never hearing it. If you've made it that long there's really no point in having that curiosity. I say this as someone who probably would have, at one time, named The Wall as my favourite album. But now I know it to be not only ludicrous, but also awful. My comment to him was that listening to The Wall now, having never heard it before, was a bit like waking up in this day and age wanting to ride a Penny-farthing.

The Wall would probably be cold sweat music for me now - but not in the good way that I've come to see (and hear) cold sweat music.

Scott Walker's Tilt and The Drift (and now Bish Bosch) feel like the correct cold sweat music. Swans' The Seer does too. Especially the drawn-out closers, A Piece of the Sky and The Apostate as a brutal 1-2 punch.

The only song on Lulu that I can even get close to tolerating - the closing track, Junior Dad, would also be a good candidate for recent cold sweat music.

I like to put myself through this music. To experience it alone, late, maybe walking in the dark - maybe huddled over the keyboard hammering out one of these posts to the world; headphones in and the blood flowing, the heart pumping - in this context it's a very visceral use of what my friend's father dismissed as cold sweat music. I am in fact welcoming it as that, encouraging it, conjuring it.

I lost some of you at Bish Bosch. Many of you back at The Wall. And the rest of you when I defended - in part - a part of Lulu. I know this. But do you have any examples, good or bad, of what you consider cold sweat music? What music turns your world upside down - has you, if you were in a dream-like state, suddenly bolt upright, contemplating your innocence and if you are still attached to any part of it as your mind races past worry into the deeply illogical concerns that were raised for just a split second when you awoke in some form of oily shock? What is the music of mild panic and subtle agitation? A panic that it feels good to feel.

What is the cold sweat music you can no longer stand? And what is the cold sweat music you currently love? 

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