As signaled by falling snow on campus and the commencement of December, winter’s frigid atmosphere feels more present with each day. Although holiday tunes are common during this time, they often overshadow winteresque music that goes unrecognized today. In celebration of the season, I thought it would be fun to highlight five albums I love hearing during wintertime, fitting for frosty breezes and frigid temperatures.
Humans have drawn connections between months of the year and certain qualities in music as far back in time as Vivaldi and “The Four Seasons.” Our minds seem to form an innate connection between nature’s transformations and their manifestation within song. As someone who grew up in the Northeast, I associate winter with a chilly, bitter ambience, accompanied by a diversity of moods and emotions. The massive snow storms always felt chaotic and frightening, bringing with them heavy snowfall and the postponement of everyday life. Simultaneously, the crisp air and short days were calming and subdued, granting one with a sense of peace. As people spent less and less time outdoors, it became easy to feel cut off from others. Yet I always found joy in the holiday celebrations or cozy moments spent with family and friends inside. These combined experiences formed my holistic view of winter, driving the varied associations I make between certain music and the season itself.
One album which embraces the coolness of the season is Bjork’s “Vespertine.” Her vocals are breathy and icy, evoking winter’s bittersweet nature in their lyrics while backed by glacial instrumentals. The delicate, accented nature of harp and synth that flourishes in “Pagan Poetry” are reminiscent of fragile snowflakes. A similar effect is present on “Aurora,” whose magical electronic lines embody the idea of a winter wonderland. However, there is warmth even within this frosty atmosphere, provided by the lush climaxes of songs and the beautiful choral backing vocals. These portions feel similar to a fire on a frozen night, warming up the listener and shielding them from the cold through their romantic, ethereal nature. Surely influenced by the chilly climate of her country of origin, Iceland, Bjork does an excellent job at capturing the emotional range of winter, whether it be frigid and freezing or mellow and mysterious. However, other albums choose not to spare the listener from any storm, instead embracing winter’s coolness with full force.
Rejecting any comfort to be found during winter, Codeine’s “Frigid Stars” perfectly captures the cold isolation of stormy nights. I first heard this record during winter 2020, a particularly depressing time with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pieces are often played with lethargic deliberation in their build ups before eventually erupting into waves of noise. This record is full of heavy, distorted guitars that pierce through songs like icicles through air. In these moments, the music evokes the wrath of blizzards and the icy desolation they bring. Low range bass parts are emphasized and help support these waves of noisy chords, capturing a dark, nocturnal atmosphere. Vocals are often deadpan and melancholic, evoking the feel of lonely, dark nights spent away from others. Due to its bleak nature, “Frigid Stars” is especially suited for the winter’s lonely nights, an avalanche of distorted beauty.
Although the desolation of Codeine’s work is suited for one side of the season, there is still joyfulness to be found in the music of other wintertime albums. For myself, winter would not be the same without Christmas music. Although I was never raised in the Christian faith, my family has always celebrated Christmas as a cultural holiday, meaning I always heard Christmas music in my daily life. One of my favorite Christmas records is Count Basie Orchestra’s “A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas!,” an album with a mix of instrumental and vocal jazz interpretations of holiday tunes. The ensemble performs classic songs like “Jingle Bells” or “Let It Snow” with virtuosity, crafting lively renditions of iconic melodies, impressive solos and new interpretations thrown in. Even though I seek variety in winter music, I still never fail to find pleasure in listening to gleeful classics every now and then.
Another winter discovery—this time during my freshman year of high school—was Brian Eno’s “Ambient 1: Music For Airports.” Eno is credited as a pioneering figure in the world of ambient music, and “Ambient 1” is his most obvious masterpiece within the genre. As a first-year student in high school, I began to seek out ambient music as a way to help me study for January’s midyear exams. This LP was my favorite discovery, serving as perfect background music for cold nights spent holed up in my room learning French and biology. The music itself reminds me of falling snow, as the successions of staccato notes layer on top of each other beautifully. Its minimal aura perfectly represents the stillness of nature, conjuring images of the earth covered in white, glistening sheets. If you’re trying to desperately focus on your finals before winter break, give this record a listen.
After the storm has settled and night has fallen, winter leaves us with a peacefully lonely world, calm and sparse outside. The minimal nature of Slowdive’s “Pygmalion” perfectly encapsulates this feeling, eliciting the tranquil beauty of freshly fallen snow. Guitar parts enter and exit naturally, melting into the background like cool breezes passing through trees. Something similar to the sound of wind can be heard on “Trellisaze,” howling in the background while icy vocals provide an added chilliness. Repetitious percussion and bass parts help ground these songs, constituting the earth upon which the flakes of a recent storm rest. Throw on this album as you contemplate nature from a bedroom window and your world will click together.
In their totality, I believe that these albums cover a wide spectrum of winter’s emotions, moods, climates and atmospheres, with each project embodying a unique aspect of the season. If you’re looking for new music to immerse yourself into the season with, be sure to check out all of these records.