Winter hasn’t officially begun yet, but the earth that so politely conceded under our feet only weeks ago is already icebound and resistant. The colder, shorter days have marked our return to a more dormant, if not reclusive, routine. Even the mailbox outside seems unreachable. There is little excess in winter life.
And yet, long nights in hibernation are the perfect opportunity to discover new music or get reacquainted with old favorites. Whether you turn to them in appreciation or for survival, here are some indispensable albums for a New England winter.
FOR WALKING IN THE WOODS
Sigur Ros, “Ágætis byrjun”
There is beauty in the minimalism of the colder climates. A fresh snowfall is a like pushing a reset button; it erases the eyesores and abundance of the everyday. We become pioneers again, ready to record our marks on a new landscape.
The title of Sigur Ros’ opus means “a good beginning.” While you might not understand a word of Icelandic, the ebb and flow of stringed crescendos will make the stars a welcome sight in the middle of the afternoon. In this dreamscape, singer Jonsi’s lilting falsetto and echoing orchestration are quiet enough to be accompanied by your slow, percussive boot steps.
Bonnie Prince Billy, “I See A Darkness”: Will Oldham’s seminal record was seemingly written for walks in deeper snow. It’s a bare folk record with a quiet croon and weighty lyrics.
KYOTY, “Undiscovered Country of Old Death and Strange Years in the Frightful Past”: A doom-inspired instrumental record that might as well be about discovering trees only to chop them down. Its storms of crushing guitar build up into a driving force that will put more purpose in your step.
FOR BREAKING UP
Frightened Rabbit, “Midnight Organ Fight”
It’s generally accepted that more courtships end in wintertide tragedy than any other season of the year. Our limbs are numb, but our hearts are alive; a winter break-up somehow hurts more, like slapping your hand on cold concrete. If this happens, embrace the heartache; it’s part of the process. Go full Rob Gordon and have a breakdown while you self-narrate the reasons why no one wants to be with you. ’Tis the season.
Frightened Rabbit’s “The Midnight Organ Fight” will demoralize you in a most satisfying way. Scott Hutchison has offered his honest, languished assessment of love at your altar of self-pity, and you will relish in it. The Glasgow indie fare is surprisingly raw. There’s a chip on his shoulder and just a hint of wailing.
Fleetwood Mac, “Rumors”: This universal break-up album is still finding new generations of wallowers, though its atmosphere, with its blend of soaring vocals and perfectly crafted pop songs, is almost hopeful.
Bright Eyes, “Fevers and Mirrors”: Conor Oberst’s masterpiece of self-loathing. The whining, almost sobbing vocals aren’t for everyone, but it’s a real gem, if your judgment is clouded by tears and mucus.
FOR NIGHTS BY THE FIRE
FKA Twigs, “LP 1”
The quintessential winter night is spent in romantic seclusion by the light of a fireplace. If you don’t have one, then turn on the “Yule Log” on TV and enjoy the greatest warmth that comes from two bodies wrapped together. Whether you’re sharing dinner, playing board games, or “indoor camping,” the centerpiece of this endeavor is an album to bring you closer together.
“LP 1” is at once angelic and provocative. The ethereal nature and alluring insecurity of Twigs’ vocal delivery belies a powerful, overt sexuality. Her sound is predicated on the tensions between consistency and unpredictability, trust and vulnerability, subtly and voraciousness. And, occasionally, weirdness.
In the old days, R&B would bludgeon you with obvious imagery and innuendo. Twigs submerges you in layers so sultry you don’t remember taking the first step. Hold tight and drown.
Portishead, “Dummy”: The eerily seductive standard by which we measure theremin-based trip-hop.
Autre Ne Veut, “Anxiety”: Arthur Ashin’s impassioned falsetto is at least as sexy as JT’s.
FOR AFFORDING TO HEAT OUR HOMES
Run The Jewels, “1&2”
The minimalism of winter is sometimes eclipsed only by the emptiness of our bank accounts. Heating bills spike and we must choose between warm hermitage and new music. Luckily there is a wealth of free, legally-available albums to get you through the season.
In addition to being good at sharing, El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels are currently the best duo in hop-hop. On “Run the Jewels 2,” El-P’s innovatively fuzzed-out production is still the most dynamic in the game. It’s the perfect counterpart to Mike’s Atlanta-based inflection and colossal delivery. Their collective sense of humor is constantly at work and their social commentary is razor sharp.
Hip-Hop: Action Bronson, “Blue Chips 1 & 2,” “Wugazi”; Chance the Rapper, “Acid Rap”
R&B: The Weeknd, “House of Balloons”; Frank Ocean, “Nostalgia Ultra”
Rock and Roll: The Adult Swim Singles Collections; Rick Rude, “Split w/Comma” and “Bald and Smelly in Waxy Texas”; The Migs, “Whatever Forever”
FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Sufjan Stevens, “Songs for Christmas”
While Christmas day itself is joyous, we must first endure the excess of the shopping season and often-uninspired carols like a protracted ice storm. Here to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas, Sufjan Stevens’ “Songs for Christmas” is packed full of love, fellowship and good will toward all. There is no commercialized overproduction on this collection of homemade recordings that Stevens’ and friends once gave to loved ones as gifts. There are, however, more than two hours of indie-folk originals, creative interpretations and classics that will joyfully pull the most ardent Grinch into a sing-along, arm in arm.
“A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector”: A must for all Christmas dance parties and still the album by which memories of traditional holiday songs are measured.
“The Ventures’ Christmas Album”: The best in surf-rock yuletide is the beach vacation we all deserve this season.
Low, “Christmas”: When the guests are gone and the light of the tree is the only thing left in the room, let this enchanting, slowcore classic close out your holiday nights.
If you’ve got a new local album, let us know at [email protected] or drop it off at our office at 105 Court St. in Portsmouth.