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Seasonal Soundtrack: Winter

By ; January 19, 2012 at 2:30 PM 

Seasonal Soundtrack: Winter
Graphic by Katherine Speelman.

Most of these albums are contained within this: Our Seasonal Soundtrack: Winter Spotify playlist.


Four Tet

Rounds

[Domino; 2003]

Though you could make the case that many an electronic album could encapsulate the sound of winter, Four Tet’s Rounds does the job better than most. As evidenced by the heartbeat-sounding sample that opens the album and the sampled free-jazz drums that appear throughout, it is apparent that Kieran Hebden chose to mine more organic tones than many of his electronic peers. From the tinkling piano that drives “My Angel Rocks Back And Forth” to the bells that open “And They All Look Broken Hearted” it’s clear that this is an album that wishes to lend a more human touch to a genre so that so often becomes stark and harrowing. Rounds is not so much a proper soundtrack the dreary skies that prevail throughout the winter months, it’s the soundtrack to more beautiful moments. It’s sunlight shining on freshly fallen snow. It’s children flitting through white fields far below. Rounds is a quiet beauty waiting to be taken in amidst a comfortless season.

– Colin Joyce

Recommended listening:

“Unspoken”

“And They All Look Broken Hearted”

Click here to listen to Rounds on Spotify.


Hauschka

Snowflakes and Car Wrecks EP

[Fat Cat; 2009]

By my measure, the Snowflakes and Carwrecks EP is an easy entry-point into Hauschka’s catalog, as most EPs tend to be, even if this one is pushing 40-minutes. The Düsseldorf-based pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann has been consistently expanding his art, under the Hauschka alias, to the point of the dance-ready gestures on 2011’s Salon Des Amateurs, one of the year’s most glossed over records and arguably his best work yet. The 2009 EP was recorded during the Ferndorf sessions, and continues his progression into new terrain, incorporating string accompaniment on top of his prepared piano. It’s an enveloping experience, and the swirling sounds are quite fitting for the EP namesake.

If you’re seeking to get in the spirit of the season and neo-classicism that uses John Cage and Erik Satie as a launching point, I can’t think of anything better than this. In fact, a couple years ago, Galaxie 500’s “Snowstorm” was my official dream pop warning call for heavy accumulation, soon to be fulfilled by Snowflakes and Carwrecks; these things happen. That’s merely a listening pattern suggestion, but after, do yourself a grand favor and pick up Salon Des Amateurs.

– Michael Tkach

Recommended listening:

“Ginsterweg”

“Kindeslberg”

Click here to listen to Snowflakes & Carwrecks on Spotify.


Hood

Cold House

[Domino; 2001]

Based on the titles of its songs alone (“The Winter Hit Hard” and “Cold Lines to Frozen Ground,” to name just a couple), Hood’s exquisite Cold House seemed like a no-brainer for this list. The lexical topicality is a plus, to be sure, but the best reason to throw this record on before the spring melt is the music itself. Minor key gloom, bubbling static-snap glitch, and cut and paste vocal samples permeate Cold House, transforming it into a masterwork of genre fusion. It feels cold, even manufactured in places, especially when the garbled vocals make it sound like your MP3 player is skipping. But the music rendered with such a deft sense of time, place and self-awareness that all you’ll want to do is immerse yourself into to the madness. “No matter how far you are away / I see you in the distance” mutter the Adams brothers on “Branches Bare.” That sense of inevitability permeates the whole of Cold House. It’s a haunting must-listen, especially when you’re surrounded by the entirely inescapable dead of winter.

– Brendan Frank

Recommended listening:

“The Winter Hit Hard”

“Branches Bare”

Click here to listen to Cold House on Spotify.


Ihsahn

After

[Candlelight; 2010]

Have you ever heard a wicked saxophone solo over gravelly, anguished screams and brutal metal riffs? No? Well, now you can with Ihsahn’s After, a solo album from the creative force behind Emporer, a now-defunct symphonic black metal band from Norway. You know where this is going–everyone knows that Norwegians make great winter albums. And, if you’re like most self-respecting black metal artists, chances are themes of coldness and darkness will naturally pervade your work. After has so much of this theme that it borders on obsessive—the album cover (featuring a snow-covered cross) and the wintry song titles seem to suggest he was writing with these themes in mind. Guitars slash through track after track, and the deep aching of a saxophone accompanies the riffs. Ihsahn’s drums take on all the force of an avalanche. These days, the talented multi-instrumentalist leans more toward the progressive and experimental–he’s not afraid to take metal to new places, which is what makes this album one of the most impressive recent works from the metal community. Tracks such as “The Barren Lands” and “On the Shores” are sure to sate your appetite for austere Scandinavian metal this season.

– Arika Dean

Recommended listening:

“The Barren Lands”

“On The Shores”

Click here to listen to After on Spotify.


Jens Lekman

When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog

[Secretly Canadian; 2004]

One of the minor oversights in the autumn edition of our Seasonal Soundtrack was Jens Lekman’s Maple Leaves, which served as a clear artistic mission statement for his burgeoning career penning songs of optimistic melancholia. Now, we seek to rectify this with the inclusion of When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog, his debut album.

Generally speaking, Lekman’s songcraft isn’t intrinsically tied to any particular season, as he dabbles in the blooming art of love and love lost; it can border on being overly gooey in the hands of a lesser artist, but he finds a way to make it really stick. His debut, on the other hand, possesses a certain grace in its simplicity, whereas many wintry albums gain this distinction by pure starkness. Some light horns and strings here and there will liven up the place until the sun bursts through on the jubilant “You Are the Light.” Elsewhere, you hear the lovely siren of the snow calling out in the background of “If You Ever Need a Stranger.” But amidst all the memorable lines and melodies (such as “oh Silvia, I was dancing to Michael Jackson…”), there’s the true kicker to sum up much of Lekman’s lyrical appeal: “’cause the cold Swedish winter is right outside / and I just want somebody to hold me through the night.”

Now, Lekman has emerged from hibernation with a recent EP, and as we await his upcoming follow-up to the excellent Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007), revisiting his debut once or twice more this winter should tide us over a little longer.

– Michael Tkach

Recommended listening:

“The Cold Swedish Winter”

“Tram #7 To Heaven”

Click here to listen to When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog on Spotify.


June Christy

Something Cool

[Capitol; 1954-55, 1960]

On cigarettes, June Christy sings: “I don’t smoke them as a rule, but I’ll have one — it might be fun — with something cool.” Such is the nonchalant debauchery of the “cool jazz” style that Christy was instrumental in popularizing during the 1950s. With a brassy big band backing, Christy’s rich, full-bodied crooning paints a picture of elegance and smoky glamor that wouldn’t sound out of place soundtracking a Mad Men marathon. But what makes this collection of jazz standards so timeless is that Christy holds her emotional cards close to her chest. On “Lonely House,” for instance, she sighs: “Funny with so many neighbors / How lonesome you can be.” Damsel in distress, right? But she sounds so damn seductive. One imagines her not crying at her bedside but rather wrapping herself up in a silk nightgown, disinterestedly flipping through her little black book, and watching young couples stroll the streets with the sort of cynical, amused detachment that only arrives after so many wild nights and heartbreaks. And this pervasive wryness makes the most baldly emotive moments of this record all the more powerful. On “The Night We Called It a Day” (perhaps made most famous by Frank Sinatra), she lets her voice crack ever so slightly during the last word of the penultimate line, describing the moment her lover broke things off: “There wasn’t a thing left to say.” For just a moment, she sounds so tender, so hurt; our heart breaks for and with her. But even then, she still makes it sound cool; it wouldn’t be her style to do otherwise, would it? So pour yourself another highball and curl up in front of the fire; even the coldest winter storm couldn’t cool this kind of heat.

Josh Becker

Recommended listening:

“Something Cool”

“Lonely House”

Click here to listen to Something Cool on Spotify.


The Knife

Silent Shout

[Rabid; 2006]

Admittedly, Silent Shout to me is less of a “winter” album and more an album that sums up how I imagine Sweden to be – which is in a perpetual state of deepest winter (an idea perpetuated by the country’s portrayal in films like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). The glistening synths coursing through the album are like fresh shining snowfall, the driving basslines represent the industriousness of the nation, and those haunting vocals are like a thick mist that might inhabit a large open plain of slow obscuring your view making it terrifying yet tantalising at the same time. Silent Shout, as its name suggests, can shift from soft moments like “From Off To On,” which are like quiet nights huddled by the fire, to much louder portions which could either represent a snowstorm or, more linearly, a huge rave (after all, people have got to keep warm in the winter somehow). Listening to Silent Shout this winter will not only make a perfect soundtrack for those coldest places, but will also remind you of just how much we all want to hear The Knife’s return, which is hopefully not too far away.

– Rob Hakimian

Recommended listening:

“Silent Shout”

“From Off To On”

Click here to listen to Silent Shout on Spotify.


Little Dragon

Little Dragon

[Peacefrog; 2007]

Little Dragon’s debut is one of my favorite albums to listen to when winter rolls in. This album encapsulates the season in 12 tracks and emotion pours out of each one. There’s the sensual, curl-up-by-the-fire vibes on “Forever,” the hopeful mellowness of “Constant Surprises” and the desolate opener “Twice.”

The Swedish quartet crafted a beautiful piece of music that is warm and chilly, organic and electronic. Drummer Erik Bodin, keyboardist Hakan Wirenstrand and bassist Fredrik Kallgren Wallin move effortlessly from the slow sway of “No Love” to an ass-shaking track like “Test.” The sparseness of “Stormy Weather” uses silence as an instrument in itself. Vocalist Yukimi Nagano sings of love, loss, longing, isolation and other themes that are easily relatable, but never forgettable. This is an album that has something for everyone, regardless of how they view the season.

– Nicholas Preciado

Recommended listening:

“Twice”

“Constant Surprises”

Click here to listen to Little Dragon on Spotify.


Low

Things We Lost in the Fire

[Kranky; 2001]

My friends and I treat winter a little different than any other time of year. Instead of going out of our way to find excuses to spend time outside, we curl up indoors, insulated from the elements and sometimes each other. Daylight is scarce, signs of life disappear or move south, lethargy spreads as readily as any seasonal flu, and the fickle landscape never can decide if it wants to look pretty or depressing. The sounds on Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire feel apiece with winter, but its slow-moving waltzes are ideal comfort food. They waft into your eardrums with the emotive melodicism that perfectly captures the look-don’t-touch splendor of the season. Even though the record is sparing in its application of pretty much everything, it has a fresh sheet of snow’s worth of subtleties. Best of all, it goes down smooth, like a hot drink spiked with your favourite liqueur. So the next time you’re staring outside and thinking about the temperature on the other side of the glass, spin Things We Lost in the Fire and tell me that Mimi Parker’s voice doesn’t make you feel a little warmer.

– Brendan Frank

Recommended listening:

“Laser Beam”

“In Metal”

Click here to listen to Things We Lost in the Fire on Spotify.


Massive Attack

Mezzanine

[Virgin; 1998]

The truth is, Mezzanine could be contorted to fit any season, mood, or atmosphere, but it functions best from the belly of winter. With production as intricate and versatile as any electronic album you can think of, the darkness of the arrangements sync perfectly with a time of year when daylight exists at a premium. The sun is barely crawling into the sky when we wake up and settling over the hills by the time our work day is through. If we’re lucky, we catch a glimpse of it sometime around noon. And though the premise is stark, Mezzanine proves that starkness, darkness, and at times out right horror can all be molded into something wholly and uniquely romantic.

– Andrew Bailey

Recommended listening:

“Angel”

“Risingson”

Click here to listen to Mezzanine on Spotify.


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