The balmy escapism of beach tape was great while it lasted, but now that it’s mid-February I’ve resigned myself to the enduring cold of the New England winter. When I think of winter music, the sort of aesthetic that jumps to mind is one characterized by ephemeral vocals, distant instrumental layers, stark guitar picking and general bleakness of sound. You’ll find songs on this side that fit that description, but I also labored to collect songs that managed to exist in winters that feature more emotions than the typical depression. My hope is that this collection will bring you to peace with the inclemency of February and remind you that winter is not as awful as it makes your fingers feel.
As always, I’ve included links to mp3 searches in elbo.ws.
1. Lotus Plaza: “Whiteout” After immersion in the unpretentious melancholia that pervades Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt’s solo foray into the world of sample-heavy shoegaze, it becomes clear exactly where some of the more bleak and protracted psychedelia of the Atlanta group comes from. “Whiteout” undulates and engulfs, it doesn’t rush, unfolding in ever more in subtle whorls where distant vocals come together for unexpected harmonies, and the ever present rhythm recedes and reappears in the listener’s consciousness. “Whiteout” creates the sonic embodiment of just that; when it’s on you feel like everything is silent and you can’t see ten yards out the window for the snow.
2. White Hinterland: “Icarus” JL tipped you all off to this gelid jam a little while ago in his Jan. 8 post – and he was right on. The slow-motion beatbreak that drives the song is absolutely frigid, an iciness compounded by the swirling wind effects and haunting howls. It’s spooky and bitter cold, but underneath the ice are the bones of a charming pop song, a characteristic that imbues the song with a level of accessibility and calmness. My buddy Edward described “Icarus” to me as the perfect song to decompress with wasted on the Tube, and I can say that it is also the perfect song to decompress with wasted in Lewiston, ME waiting for your rolling fingers to warm back up and wondering what it’s like to not be able to see your breath.
3. Paavoharju: “Kevätrumpu” This song is a frozen romp. When it’s on it transports me to some kind of druid ritual in a snowy alpine forest with people all dressed up as bears and caribou and all kinds of boreal creatures. The group is made up of ascetic Christians from Finland, which gives the song the perfect wintery ethos. I can imagine them writing “Kevätrumpu” in and out of the bleary haze of the cabin fever of the dark Finnish winter. It’s as much of a must listen as the Fresh & Onlys’ “Peacock and Wing” was on the last tape.
4. Fleet Foxes: “White Winter Hymnal” Here’s a quintessential tune from a band that you definitely already have in your itoons. “White Winter Hymnal” was an obvious choice for the tape; it’s the perfect soundtrack to a sunny trek though pastures and forests white and heavy with snow. It is at once distinctly wintery and yet totally uplifting, a balance that can be difficult for bands to strike. It makes me want hot cocoa.
5. Grizzly Bear and Feist: “Service Bell” This collaboration for 2009’s home-run indie comp. Dark Was the Night sees “Service Bell” only slightly modified from the original version from Grizzly Bear’s 2004 debut LP Horn Of Plenty. Feist’s fragile vocals lend the song a strikingly delicate, almost icy starkness, and Grizzly Bear’s instrumentation provides a texture that is both sparse and earnest. I imagine it accompanying some midwinter reminiscence of love lost – simple and evocative.
6. Panda Bear: “Comfy In Nautica” Noah Lennox is the guy behind Animal Collective’s most atmospheric and ululated moments, and his solo work as Panda Bear shows the sample-alchemist at his most deliberate and psychedelic. “Comfy In Nautica” is hopefully another song that you already have on your computer, a lead single off 2007’s Person Pitch (an album that might have the best cover of all time). It’s direct enough in construction to verge on drone, but mechanical samples and reverbed vocals give the song an air of winter; it’s simultaneously distant and all-encompassing, mirroring a feeling that only accompanies winter’s cold.
7. Silver Pines: “Time Father” This relatively new song from shoegazey Texas quintet Silver Pines is slow as molasses in progression and cathartic as February sunshine in progression. Time is something that seems more somehow relevant to the winter than any other season in particular, in part, I think, because its inclement nature leads us to escape to memories of summers and springs past. “Time Father” captures this nostalgia perfectly.
8. Grouper: “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” This track comes off an album entitled Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, so right away it draws an immediate association with all things desolate and depressing. The song is perfectly titled; it drifts out of your speakers as if recorded under the ice in a frozen pond. Liz Harris’ vocals sound like they’re coming through the chilled and murky depths, sung by someone resigned to her hypothermic fate.
9. Sigur Rós: “Við Spilum Endalaust” Sigur Rós make winter music. Their earlier, more ambient, and distinctly postrock material attains a winterness through subtle and somber progressions; ethereal soundscapes on par with the barrenness of their homeland. “Við Spilum Endalaust” comes off of their newest release, 2008’s Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust and features the band striving for a more pop-oriented sound. The title means “We Play Endlessly,” and attains the same upbeat winter aesthetic that does “White Winter Hymnal.” There is no shortage of depressing music that feels like winter (stay tuned for side b), so songs that manage to achieve a winter feel while remaining positive are real gems. This song might be the best example of this out there.
As I mentioned just now, I’ll be coming out with on ice side b, which will have a more downtrodden and folkey feel than side a.