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Top Ten Winter Music List (Part 2)

You saw the first half in our last Gift Guide, here's 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.

5. Bon Iver — For Emma

Bon Iver just sounds like an artist your Uncle would enjoy doesn’t he? With that being said, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon spent the winter of 2007 holed up in rural Wisconsin with his guitars, some recording equipment, and a broken heart. When the snow melted, he returned with ten sparse, searching songs that gorgeously evoke the desolate beauty of those surroundings. Vernon’s voice—delicately layered and yearning—gives standouts “Skinny Love” and “Flume” their stunningly direct emotional impact, but his sturdy folk chords, earthy melodies, and plainspoken, pastoral lyrics prevent the album from descending into self-pity. Play For Emma when your fire burns low. It’ll help keep you and your new crush stay warm.

4. Smashing Pumpkins — Pisces Iscariot

This is a great gift for anyone that grew up during the grunge fueled 90s. This collection of B-sides and demos is easily one of the Pumpkins’ most overlooked albums. It also fits in nicely with the winter theme, especially Billy Corgan’s cover of “Landslide.” Corgan is all too familiar with Chicago winters and it shows in this album. It’s loaded with angst and sadness, and speckled with hope. The Pumpkins’ Ava Adore could easily be on this list too.

3. The National — High Violet

In between patches of obtuse imagery, singer Matt Berninger sounds increasingly self-destructive. The record’s upbeat numbers don’t cheer him up so much as commiserate with him. All of this makes High Violet a dark affair, even for a band with a reputation for sad-bastard melodrama. The National have never sounded triumphant, but they can still be reassuring, with Berninger’s lyrics acting as salves for our own neuroses. By March, you’ll be looking for almost any excuse to snap out of your winter funk. We all know how it goes... We all know how it goes... Six drinks in, tired of going out every other night, wishing you could just go home and laugh at sitcoms with someone? The National’s got your back.

2. Death Cab For Cutie — Narrow Stairs

Show your friends how cool you are. Death Cab is a must for any original Allentown hipster. Love isn’t watching someone die, contrary to what Ben Gibbard memorably sang on Death Cab for Cutie’s major-label debut. No, love is watching someone grow and change and still staying with them—whether we’re talking about family, friends, romantic interests, or a little college-town indie rock band from about an hour-and-a-half outside Seattle. Death is just the dénouement. In the three years since their platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated Plans, Gibbard and Death Cab producer/guitarist Chris Walla have both entered their thirties, coming off a wave of successes that included 2003’s Transatlanticism going gold and the debut by Gibbard side project the Postal Service becoming Sub Pop’s best-selling disc since Nirvana. That’s a whole lotta love. It goes without saying that Death Cab has a firm grip on melancholy. Just about every one of their albums makes me think of cold, dark winters—especially Narrow Stairs. But for some reason it’s a feeling of warmth in an otherwise cold place. Death Cab is interesting in that the songs can be depressing yet oddly transcending, taking you wherever you want to go.

1. Band of Horses — Cease to Begin

The first approach when picking an album for this bleak midwinter is to look for something that meets you in the snow, something with a chilliness that reflects the dystopian tundra of the world outside your window—we’ll call this the Kid A route. (See AV v13n48 Winter Music List) Of course, the other option is to pick something that warms you up—the “Find Your Beach” route, if you will. That’s where you throw on the old stuff (or the stuff that sounds old), the kind with guitars and riffs and super-obvious choruses, with harmonies that fall strictly into major keys. These two roads diverged in a winter-album wood and made things difficult, but I found an album that does both: Band of Horses’ Cease to Begin is a cup of iced liquor, hitting your mouth in a freezing burst, but giving your cheeks a flush just the same. Being one of the more boilerplate semi-southern-rock bands of mid-2000s indie lore (which is not an insult), a summery sound could reasonably be expected from Ben Bridwell’s crew, and it was there to an extent on Band of Horses’ debut, Everything All the Time. But whether they planned a specific departure or I’m just a slave to subconscious associations with the album’s artwork, Cease to Begin wields a guitar-tone and produced sheen that’s the aural equivalent of cold steel on bare skin. Cease to Begin has been called soft, so maybe I’ve spent too much time trying to mount a defense. Probably, the real message should’ve just been this: This album is the perfect gift for anybody who just wants to lay back with headphones on and have a drink.

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