Winter is a time filled with cups of hot chocolate, hand-knitted beanies, and gifts upon gifts. But music is also a big part of the season, and I’m not talking the same three Christmas songs played by your local radio station (please, don’t call me the Grinch for saying that). Many artists have invoked feelings of the cold weather and annual holiday traditions through their regular full-length releases. Give these 12 albums a listen for the perfect musical accompaniment during the winter months.
AFI – Sing the Sorrow (2003)
Leaving an album titled Decemberunderground out of this list seems criminal, but it’s AFI’s preceding full-length, Sing the Sorrow, that more aptly reflects the bite of the coming season. “Silver and Cold” represents a rainy night (with the sound bytes to back it up), and its moody melodicism gives hints of shorter days and lower temperatures. There’s also the big hit, “Girl’s Not Grey”, where heavy-duty guitars and a slick hook hit with better precision and an even bigger chill. Still the rockers’ most gothic effort to date, Sing the Sorrow is as wintery as it gets.
August Burns Red – Constellations (2009)
While most associated with the holidays because of their Christmas album, August Burns Red has always branded their metalcore with intensity and anguish more comparable to December than the month featured in their name (the most obvious example: “The Frost”). The group’s standout 2009 release Constellations slices through quiet snowstorms with pummeling, raucous finesse. Throughout, they prove to be cool as ice in terms of execution, with “Thirty and Seven” flaunting ferocious chugs and “White Washed” building up and crashing down seamlessly.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)
In addition to being one of the best albums to come out of the alternative/indie realm this decade, Bon Iver’s second album is, quite simply, a winter wonderland. Full of reverberating guitars, drum taps, and ethereal walls of vocals, Bon Iver, Bon Iver hits the listener with the sensation of a pristine Wisconsin snowfall. Frontman Justin Vernon may not have locked himself away in a cabin to create this masterpiece of an album, but he concocted an atmosphere of sound that defines itself by the serenity of the backcountry, as well as the magic of the holidays.
Defeater – Empty Days and Sleepless Nights (2011)
“Dear God / What have you done?” is a harsh way to start a record, but it’s resemblant of the frigid storytelling and wintertime coldness of Defeater’s mid-20th century narrative on Empty Days and Sleepless Nights. The plot continues from the outfit’s previous release, telling the story of a young man who kills his father in January 1962. Split into two parts, the LP transitions from gruff melodic hardcore to acoustic folk by disc two, with the climactic mood-setter “Brothers” and melancholic love song “I Don’t Mind” fitting the story’s climate perfectly.
Foxing – Dealer (2015)
Foxing followed up a promising debut with 2015’s ambitious Dealer, and its many emotional layers help drive home a thick chill. The band explores a variety of textures with their emo-driven sound, from feedback-laden guitars to patient piano touches. With visceral expression and precise execution, they haunt on “The Magdalene” and “Night Channels.” The group showcases impeccable artistry as instruments crash and vocalist Conor Murphy croons, with the frozen beauty of their sorrow-filled hymns matching their native Midwest’s rolling hills.
La Dispute – Rooms of the House (2014)
Michigan’s legendary post-hardcore unit La Dispute is no stranger to concept albums. While not taking up as monumental of stories as Wildlife, they intricately weave together a one-on-one account on Rooms of the House. The full-length recaps the collapse of a relationship, with rooms helping define the scenery around the heavy emotions. Jordan Dreyer’s free verse and scream-spoken delivery breathe life into the songs. In sonically personifying his writings, the entire band huddles together in the cold dark of snow, tornadoes, car crashes, and arguments.
M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003)
The cover of French alternative/electronic artist M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts implants a sense of wintery expanse before ever hitting play. But upon exploring its gusty musical dynamic, it’s no surprise that Anthony Gonzalez wanted imagery to reflect winter. From “Church,” whose organ reminds of Christmas Eve church services, to the walloping “Gone” and its reminder that the seasons come and go, this is a record as cinematic as it is intimate. The cold months may leave soon, but this production marvel basks in the delicacy of the moment.
Noah Gundersen – Ledges (2014)
Winter isn’t complete without a man plucking his way through a bunch of comforting folk songs. Noah Gundersen adequately fits this description, specifically on his heartache-filled 2014 album, Ledges. His first full-length acted as his true breakthrough, launching him from the Puget Sound to national recognition in the folk scene. His ability to command the musical canvas surely helps, as he discusses tough topics like religion and death with an able voice and a calmly strummed guitar. Resultantly, Ledges howls like a winter wind and envelops like a chilly small town.
The Republic of Wolves – Varuna (2010)
Varuna is an album of spiritual proportions, fitting its Islamic and Hindu thematics around a moody indie rock identity. The Republic of Wolves’ first EP was mistaken for Daisy demos, and their self-released rookie record the year after stands closest to Brand New in its raw darkness. The album echoes in the breeze of cold nights, whether it’s twinkling chords or murky melodies pressing the songs into the listener’s psyche. “Woolen Blankets” brings both to the table in an earthy display of feeling, while “Pitch and Resin” broods like a hazy winter sky with its folk vibes.
Sigur Rós – () (2002)
To quote from D2: The Mighty Ducks, “Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice.” “Very nice” may be an apt way of describing Iceland, but it’s not near enough to encapsulate the country’s deeply affecting post-rock group Sigur Rós. With lyrics recited in a made-up language and instrumentation that personifies their home’s wondrous tundra, there isn’t a more natural representation of wintertime than their grandiose 2002 exploration (). Crashing waves of guitar, soothing piano, and hummed vocals come together to recreate the season’s quaint allure.
Turnover – Peripheral Vision (2015)
By infusing their emo/punk sound with elements of shoegaze and dreampop, Turnover shifted into more vibrant musical territory on Peripheral Vision. If the reverb-soaked guitars aren’t enough to bring nostalgia for colored lights and snow days, then the opening breeze of “Cutting My Fingers Off” is sure to make listeners shiver. From the one-two punch of texture and technicality on “Dizzy on the Comedown” to the the radiant examination of aging on “New Scream,” Peripheral Vision details reminiscence — including the youthful feeling winter brings.
The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation (2013)
It may seem odd to include a pop-punk album on a list of wintery albums when the genre is all things summer, but The Wonder Years came close to bridging the gap between the seasons on The Greatest Generation. With descriptions of “heart attacks shoveling snow” and “tenement windows in mid-July,” frontman “Soupy” Campbell did his best to fill the record with 12 months’ worth of tough feelings and tougher revelations. From experience, singing along to “Passing Through a Screen Door” in the car is as fun while bundled up as it is with the windows down.