I know it’s a little early for this, but here in Illinois we’ve already had our first real snow of the fall season and it’s suddenly got me in the mood to listen to some of my favorite wintertime songs. Not holiday-themed songs, mind you – rather songs that are often a little quieter, atmospheric and reflective. Songs that make you want to stay inside while the snow falls, make some hot chocolate, put on your headphones/earbuds, and just relax and absorb the music – rather like I’m doing at this very moment. No doubt we all have different ideas about the types of music we enjoy most during each passing season, but here are ten of my personal favorite songs that resonate the most during the winter.
1. “This Is Twice Now” – Lydia
The opening track from their wildly popular sophomore album Illuminate, “This Is Twice Now” is a perfect choice for any winter playlist. Starting with some soft piano playing, crooners Leighton Antelman and Mindy White soon join the fun on this beautifully layered indie-rock song. With some quite weighted lyrics (“Hailey I was sick and I’m still quite unwell/Tell me it’s you or nothing at all”) to boot, this song is the perfect accompaniment to keeping warm on a cold wintery night with blustering winds outside.
2. “Shiver” – Lucy Rose
If ever there was an appropriately titled song, this is it. With little more than an acoustic guitar and a few small atmospheric effects, “Shiver” is guaranteed to send chills up your spine. As Lucy Rose’s soft, delicate vocals and raw, honest lyrics (“We stole every moment we had to make the other one feel bad”) reflect on a lost relationship with feelings clearly remaining (“If we turn back time, could we learn to live right?”), you can’t help but get lost in her emotions.
3. “Introspect” – Anchor & Braille
Originally titled “In Retrospect, It Was Obviously Hell”, this song was one of Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian’s very first forays into the acoustic/folk world. An extremely retrospective tune, you can’t help but be moved as Christian asks “Is this heaven, or is this hell/I’m too tired to think, too tired to tell.” Frankly, A&B’s entire discography makes for great listening in the colder seasons and “Introspect” is the perfect place to start.
4. “Undertow” – Warpaint
Perhaps a more obscure choice that won’t be known to some readers, this all-female, psychedelic indie-pop quartet from Los Angeles brings an equally haunting and infectious tune in “Undertow”. Imagine you’re walking alone through a forest on a cold winter evening. The sun has set and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re being watched, or followed. Then all of a sudden you hear the echoing words “Now I’ve got you in the undertow.” Does that intrigue you enough to listen?
5. “Cartoons & Macrame Wounds” – Mew
College students: Don’t you just dread those 1-2 mile walks to campus at 7:30 a.m. during the winter? You always dress properly yet the wind still finds a way to cut through to your skin. You long for a distraction, anything to take your mind off this frozen hell. My friends, here’s your solution. This Danish alternative rock/dream pop/everything in between outfit loves to place layer upon layer of utter beauty into their songs, and this seven-minute serenade from their 2009 effort No More Stories… is the ideal song to get lost in and forget about all your troubles.
6. “Dissolved Girl” – Massive Attack
Massive Attack’s widely acclaimed 1998 record Mezzanine is like a perfected work of art – the more you explore it, the more stunning details you unravel. One of the album’s heaviest cuts, “Dissolved Girl” starts with an eerie bass intro and a dark but catchy beat before Sara Jay’s hypnotic vocals come in. This continues for nearly three minutes until suddenly a grisly, thunderous guitar comes out to play for a short time before receding again, leaving the song to finish almost exactly as it began.
7. “Frail” – Jars of Clay
Hailing from the alternative rockers’ 1997 Grammy-winning album Much Afraid, this seven-minute centerpiece is a somber showing of humility combined with some stunning orchestral arrangements. Largely instrumental, it starts with a single steady drumbeat and a lightly plucked guitar, the orchestra weaving chills through your spine. Soon, Dan Haseltine’s mesmerizing vocals join the fray for a short time before letting the music climax and eventually settle again. Jars of Clay may be a Christian band, but trust me, you don’t need to be religious to enjoy this song.
8. “Day One” – Explosions in the Sky
One of the best aspects of post-rock – and Explosions in the Sky in particular – is that without the vocals, you can easily put a mental picture or a scenario with the music. As the song fades in with chimes, piano, and equally-paced guitar and drums, I always imagine being a kid again, when you woke up to see that first snowfall that arrived overnight while you were sleeping; looking out the window, seeing it twinkle as the sunlight reflects off of it. Your mind may form a completely different scenario to mine, but I’m sure we can all agree that this song is downright gorgeous.
9. “Winter” – Joshua Radin
Oh come on – you knew there would be an obviously titled song on here at some point. You may very well know this acoustic/folk ballad from its appearance on Scrubs or its regular playing on the Weather Channel during – you guessed it – the winter. Well known for his airy, almost-whispered vocals, “Winter” is stripped down to little more than Radin’s voice, the acoustic guitar and some truly heart-wrenching lyrics that anyone can relate to. The perfect song to enjoy by the fireplace while hearing the words “And I remember the truth/A warm December with you.”
10. “So Here We Are” – Bloc Party
It was either going to be Radiohead or Bloc Party for the final song choice, and since about 80% of Radiohead’s discography could’ve made this list, it was impossible to pick one song. Therefore I went with the Londoners and their hit ballad single “So Here We Are”. While many of the previous songs are darker, quieter, and more likely to give you the chills, this indie-rock beauty is musically more upbeat and feels like a celebration of sorts. According to lead singer Kele Okereke, it’s meant to capture the feeling of being on ecstasy. I don’t know exactly what that feels like, but I do know that you’ll soon forget all about the snow/sleet/ice/hail/wind once you’re getting lost in this sensational song.