Top Ten Winter Music List (Part 1)
by Jeff Czum
Here's half the list, pick up our last-minute gift guide December 18 for the rest...
For many of us, the holiday season is filled with decorations, too much food and family time, but we all face the dilemma that comes with buying that perfect gift that stands out from the rest. What do you buy for that extra special person in your life? And what can you buy your little brother when he’s sick of socks and jocks? Music is always a good answer, and here are some fail-safe options you can gift to the people in your life this holiday season. I’m sure by now, you’re all extremely tired of hearing the non-stop barrage of Christmas songs on your typical “office radio station,” so I’ve compiled a unique list of albums that are best enjoyed during the harsh Buffalo winter. Whether you want to relax by a warm fire with your favorite blanket, or just have something to help make this winter transition a little easier for you, these 10 albums will definitely put you at ease.
Perhaps this is a case of reading too much into the giant, snow-capped mountains on the cover of Radiohead’s Kid A, or perhaps it’s the fact that the winter of my freshman year of high school, I listened to Kid A pretty damn regularly. Or perhaps it’s just that Kid A is so atmospheric and isolated, paranoid and eerie, there’s just no untangling it from winter at its harshest. Kid A always seemed to paint the perfect picture of pink skies illuminating through falling snowflakes. Whether the bizarre robotic twinkles of the title track, the hypnotic awakening of mesmerizing opening song “Everything In Its Right Place,” or the weeping progression of waltzing ballad “How to Disappear Completely.” At times, playing Kid A felt as if a winter storm was always imminent, even when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which is saying a lot. Such is Radiohead’s uniquely chilling talent. This is the perfect gift for your cool Aunt, or older sister.
Wondering what album could best fit your mom or dad? What do they even listen to these days other than 97Rock and Joy FM? Nick Drake is perfect for any parent. In his brief career, English troubadour Nick Drake never recorded anything close to a summertime album—not by a long shot. Pink Moon, stripped to the stark production of just Drake’s voice and gentle acoustic guitar, is as wintry and melancholy as they come. “Things Behind the Sun” is the sort of song that’s best heard with only the light of flickering candles. And “Know” and “Parasite” each have a somber bareness about them, as if to mirror trees stripped of their leaves. It’s an achingly beautiful album, and one that ends entirely too soon, but its soft tones and soothing sound make it a source of comfort in the most severe weather.
When Björk began her solo career after splitting with the Sugarcubes, she arrived with a vibrant and bouncy collection of club pop that started her on an experimental and artful path. But it also only hinted at the broad orchestral electronic pop sounds she would ultimately come to embrace. I’ve always associated Björk’s music with winter, but I probably need to clarify that statement a bit. It’s essentially from Homogenic on that that is truly the case. With Vespertine, Biophilia and Medulla, she certainly tapped into an alluring, abstract chill. Homogenic is the one most connected to winter in my mind, an album that finds its soul both in intimate, atmospheric spaces and in soaring pieces of mesmerizing ambition. Maybe it’s second nature to the Icelandic (see also: #6), but Björk has a particular knack for making winter soundtracks and she’s perfect to listen to at night while cuddling up with that special someone.
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something seasonal about instrumental music: funk is for the springtime, jam bands capture summer, jazz is autumnal, and post-rock perfectly encapsulates the winter. And no post-rock album represents wintertime more than Explosions in the Sky’s acclaimed third album, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. The album’s forty-five minutes of instrumental music turn winter numbness into romance, optimism, and ecstasy—and the way this band communicate such strong emotions without using lyrics shows what incredible musicians they are, especially as the only linguistic guidance we have lies in the song titles. While it was released over ten years ago, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place remains timeless, and I cannot think of a better record to more perfectly soundtrack your transition into our 5-month winter. This gift is perfect for that mysterious indie-rock lover of your family and friends.
Maybe it’s their Icelandic roots, or perhaps it’s their tendency to play slow, epic post-rock dirges strewn with reverb and bowed guitars, but Sigur Rós is practically synonymous with the coldest months of the year. Listening to the band’s breakthrough album, 2000’s Agaetis Byrjun is akin to watching the sun rise from the edge of the world. Its lengthy tracks creep like ice floes in a polar sea, with standouts like “Sven-G-Englar” and “Ny Batteri” moving gradually, gracefully toward a mighty climax. Agaetis isn’t so much a bitter snowstorm as the lone bonfire on a desolate and frozen stretch of continent. Sigur Rós is almost a genre of it’s own and this album is the perfect gift for anyone in your family. Whether it’s played as white noise as you fall asleep or played on your phone during your morning commute, Agaetis Byrjun will please almost anyone.
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