So many great albums are intrinsically attached to the quintessence of a season.
Music has this incredible ability to mimic the tone of reality with a combination of timbre, texture, chords and melodies. And of course there’s the subject matter. Each year when winter descends, music with a sombre temperament usually makes its way out of the gloom to once again accompany us through those long, cold days.
And there’s something pretty comforting about this. Here are 6 definite records with an icy heart: essential winter listening.
Yeah it’s getting damn cold, but sometimes you just have to roll with it. Here are 7 essential winter albums that, although cold as ice, might very well warm your heart.
Joni Mitchell – Blue
At times, the bitter chill of a winter’s walk home can amplify loneliness and reignite past heartbreak. In the icy blues of winter’s harsh reality, Joni Mitchell crafted her career affirming masterpiece, Blue. For the songwriter, who’s past works swayed more towards protest songs and traditional folk, Blue was a departure and came as a shock to many fans.
The record exudes sadness, yes, but shines a light on the stages of a relationship’s difficulties that can act as the kindest friend in a time of hardship. While there are some cheery cuts that are equally powerful like This Flight Tonight and All I Want, the record shines as it draws from Mitchell’s heartbreak.
The LP’s title track could be the saddest song ever written, it’s sparse piano arrangement and Joni’s wavering vibrato washes over you in intermittent frozen waves, leaving the listener utterly shattered in the wake of the track’s sheer desperation.
A Case Of You is a teardrop that expands into an ocean as it blooms into Mitchell’s divine storytelling prowess, The Last Time I Saw Richard does just the same, taking a listener on a journey so intensely personal, one can’t help but to pry further into the events that inspired it.
The naked, unyielding personality of Blue is why it’s one of the most enduring records of all time and why it’ll keep you company in even the coldest winter.
James Blake – Overgrown
From the icy cover art to the entire concept of the LP, James Blake’s Overgrown is an ode to winter at its finest. With every new release, Blake seemingly becomes even more innovative and his genius proves undeniable.
When Overgrown dropped in 2013, it’s safe to say the JB fandom was thrown for a loop when the electro wizard revealed a song with an actual chorus. Retrograde, of course, went on to become one of his most loved tracks with his signature soulful bellow dancing and glistening with its singing synth counterparts.
Perhaps the most wintery track is Dlm, the heart wrenching ballad, reminiscent of Joni herself, draws visible breaths of anguish in the face of a failing love. There’s an inherent link between winter’s cold and the pain of heartbreak and Blake pours the ache of winter all over the record. This is one of the best records to feel cold and be sad to – why do we love doing that so much?!
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part
Any number of Nick Cave records could be described as crucial winter listening, not in the least is 2013’s Push The Sky Away. Cave has a wicked ability to make you feel both cold and warm at the same time, enamoured by his charming baritone yet frozen stiff by stark subject matter and icy instrumentation.
2001’s No More Shall We Part exemplifies this better than any other NCATBS records with its long sombre instrumental passages and imagery of searing winds, desolate pastures and white snow. It’s full of longing, and a little gentler than Cave had been in the past, even in his most tender moments. A sobering winter listen.
Radiohead – Kid A
Few things evoke the temperament of a cold gust of wind like Thom Yorke’s voice buried in a blanket of reverb. Kid A is a chilling record in many ways, from the atmospheric opening of Everything In Its Right Place to the crushing, crystallised weight of Motion Picture Soundtrack. Yorke’s lyrics deal with so many sombre themes of dislocation, numbness and apathy, and are delivered with such austerity that it feels like the soundtrack to the end of the world. It’s beautiful in a very dark sort of way – much like winter.
Joy Division – Closer
Joy Division are masters at evoking the spectrality of winter. With producer Martin Hannett at the helm once again, the band’s second and final album, Closer took on an even more chilling tone than its predecessor.
A thin film of arctic reverb covers everything, complimented perfectly by Hannett’s subtle inclusion of ghostly synths and Sumner’s shimmery guitar work. Heart and Soul and Twenty Four Hours sound like the soundtrack to someone getting lost in a snowstorm and finally perishing in a violent in a climactic blizzard. Eerie stuff.
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Not all wintery albums have to be, well, cold. The debut full-length from Fleet Foxes’ is less ‘dark, empty cobblestone streets’ and more ‘misty, snow-capped mountains’, and has this incredible ability to make you forget reality go somewhere remote and surrounded by pines and ice.
On this record, singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold is reflective, using imagery and rumination on the wild, untamed world to tease out his own thoughts on existence, loneliness, and relationships. Sonically, the album is a breezy tapestry of folk mainstays: warm acoustic guitars, twinkling percussion and an expanse of reverb that covers the choral vocals. There’s an eeriness here, but it’s more curious than menacing. Take a drive through the woods and put this on. You’ll probably get lost.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
The story of how Justin Vernon created his seminal debut as Bon Iver has since become a folk legend: reeling from sickness, dissolution and couple of broken hearts, Vernon retreated to his father’s log cabin in the snowy woods of rural Wisconsin with some basic recording gear, instruments and supplies with every intention of cutting himself off from the world. Here he wrote and recorded the majority of For Emma, Forever Ago.
It’s a raw, unembellished record that sounds like pure catharsis of the human spirit. There are moments where you can almost hear the cabin creaking from the wind howling outside. Meanwhile Vernon howls inside. Despite the intimate nature of the songs, you can’t help but be drawn in and share Vernon’s desperation and loneliness; and through this, healing is possible for both.