10 essential albums for wintertime

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Wintertime, for me, is a time of nostalgia, reflection, deep introspection, and a lot of other totally pussy ass shit. As the air chills out and the frost comes calling, you need a soundtrack… If you're me, you go for long walks and find yourself in awkward car rides to even more awkward car rides. If you're me, you pull your headphones over your ears and lose yourself in the swirling sounds. Here are a few records that have and continue to get me through the frozen months.

Mount Eerie, No Flashlight

First off, check out the cover artwork. Phil Elvrum crafted a perfect album for wintertime with No Flashlight. It's a gloomy, iridescent indie-folk masterpiece. Hushed instruments with blurry white-washed drones, and breathy vocals about the misunderstandings of life and love. It's just fucking absolutely brilliant. You can go super weird, avant-garde and turn your back on your old record collection as you give in to harsh power electronics, but No Flashlight is really the type of record that is always essential. Put it on and hum softly into your steering wheel on your way to your parents' for the family Christmas experience. Beautiful.

Elliott Smith, Either/Or

I feel like listening to Elliott Smith is pretty much essential in wintertime. I think it might just be a nostalgic thing. I don't necessarily believe there's really anything overtly winter-themed about Smith's music. It's just that wintertime kind of turns me into a bit of a sad bastard, pulling hard on cigarettes and looking into dark corners of rooms, standing awkwardly at holiday events. There's a real, immediate connection with music like “Between The Bars” or “Speed Trials.” Tracks like these, to me, are just screaming for a wintertime mix on your ipod.

Fennesz, Black Sea

This album is basically field recordings of snow falling and ice forming. Christian Fennesz put together an album of shimmering, sputtering electronic washes that feel frozen, cold, grey, and dismal, but there's a shining, luminous backdrop sending rays of golden warmth down the icicles dripping into a bed of fuzzy distortion. It's a beautiful album. It's not too light-hearted or faint, like a lot of ambient releases, but it doesn't get too heavy-handed. There's a perfect blend of cold electronics and real human warmth flowing through the tracks.

Galaxie 500, Today

Like I said with Elliott Smith, winter turns me into a bit of a sad, awkward teenager all over again. This is just good, nostalgic wintertime music to me. There's nothing really screaming winter, but that's not the point. I just imagine this album being the soundtrack to a slow-motion snowball fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or a cumbersome walk through the snow, stopping to make out by ice-coated trees, a high-five, a slap on the ass, and the trudging starts all over again. It's a solid fucking album; perfect songs, a classic sound, light and catchy… Just perfect.

James Blackshaw, The Cloud Of Unknowing

I remember hearing “Running To The Ghost,” from this album back in '07, when it came out. I must have copped it from Raven Sings The Blues, which I was utterly smitten with back then. I guess at the time, for whatever reason or another, I was without an iPod, so I was making mix CDs. I had this on a mix, with a lot of Leo Kottke, Do Make Say Think, Islaja, Manyfingers, blah blah blah. I was
jamming it on headphones as I walked in the wind and freezing rain from my apartment to my mom's place. Something about James Blackshaw's vibe, the way the guitar strings glimmer, bounce around; it's delicate, yet driving. It's as haunting as it is charming.

Kevin Drumm, Imperial Distortion

Not necessarily an easy listen for those of you who would praise me more for the Elliott Smith and Galaxie 500 albums — though nowhere near as inaccessible as some of Drumm's discog, like the beastly furnace electronics of Impish Tyrant. Imperial Distortion is a minimal album that feels buried under the frost. It's often haunting, bleak as fuck, disorienting at times, but mostly it's a cold and subtle trip. Heavily filtered dark ambient moans drifting into murky fogs and frozen slush. Don't get me wrong, though, there's some truly fucking beautiful moments on this album, like the deceivingly-titled “More Blood And Guts,” or the second “Snow” that opens the second half of this dual-disc album. Overall, I would say this is actually more beautiful than it is unapproachable. If you like Stars Of The Lid and Brian Eno's ambient works, you should venture a bit into this realm.

Grouper, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

I've spilled many words out about Grouper over the course of Never Waking Up, but
probably still not enough to do Liz Harris' project any real justice. Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill took the reverb-soaked, fuzzy washed sounds of Grouper, and bent them into a slightly more delicate, dream-pop realm. By no means is this a pop record, but the music's sound is more rigid and defined. We hear Harris' gentle voice over the layers of guitar and songs, bold and sturdy, are formed and presented for us. What you do, is you start a big fire in your log cabin, deep in the woods, and you vibe the fuck out.

The Cure, Faith and Pornography

I couldn't pick. The Cure has been a favorite band of mine since I was 16 years old, when I first discovered them after finding the live Show album used at a record store. Everyone, no matter your age or musical preference, has at least one Cure song he or she likes. It was immediate with me. Their music hit the nail on the head, and punched my stomach and my dick in. This was perfect music for a naive, know-nothing teenager in a very awkward phase, trying to approach girls and come to grips with things like love and sex and real knowledge. So, when it comes time to cranking the heat and puttin on a few layers, these are the two records I find myself going back to over and over again.

Tracks like “Other Voices,” “All Cats Are Grey,” and “The Funeral Party” from Faith are perfect winter bangers. Wanna throw a party with you and your mates, while the snow flutters outside? Put this one on and bust a fuckin' dirty move and drink wine. Wanna cry your eyes out in your closet while the snow flutters outside? “The Hanging Garden” or “Cold” from Pornography should do the trick. Shit's just absolutely perfect. Don't be foolish, buy some Cure records.

SUNNO))), Black One

Black One is pure dismal, bleak, frozen earth energy. This album won't make you feel any better that it's getting frigid in your bedroom and you're wearing two pairs of socks and an extra flannel. It's not going to lift your spirits at all, unless… y'know, you gave your soul to Satan. Which, hey, that's fucking cool, whatever. What this album will do is make you stare off into space for about an hour, maybe drool a little. Shit, maybe you'll even jump up, punch out your bathroom mirror, do your face up like a corpse, make a torch and fuck up a couple trees with a machete. Who knows? It's a blizzard of guitar doom, droning on into the dead, frozen earth. This album is some straight fuck you in a world of shit vibe.

My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

Time and time again, I try to convince myself Loveless is not my favorite My Bloody Valentine release, trying to instead throw up You Made Me Realize and Isn't Anything –another amazing album for wintertime listening–but we can really only kid ourselves for so long. Loveless is a perfect record. Kevin Shields' guitar is a defining, inspiring sound, and it's quintessential, along with the perfect balance of Shields' and Bilinda Butcher's voice, and every other aspect of this band's racket, for any time spent with your record collection in the cold months of winter. I don't want to wax too poetically on this one. Listen to “Sometimes” and just have at it. I'll shut the fuck up now. This is probably the most essential wintertime record, hands down.

So there it is… My ten favorite albums for wintertime, more or less. There's a million other records that fit this bill perfectly, as well. But I trust these records for comfort and even some discomfort, and I find myself returning to them yearly.