It almost seems like yesterday that it was December – in 2011. Amazing how time flies these days. Another winter has arrived and some of us are already sick of the snow while others still await the first flakes of the season. Some of us are ready for a four-hour game of pond hockey while others continue to enjoy warmth and outdoor swimming pools. One thing our entire staff can agree on, however, is that we all have particular music that resonates with us most strongly during the winter months. From progressive metal to indie-rock to, yes, there’s a Christmas album or two, we’re bringing you a full array of our favorite wintertime albums, so check ’em out and let us know what YOUR favorites in the winter are as well.
Zac Lomas’ Choice: War All The Time by Thursday
As a native Buffalonian the long, snowy, and decidedly cold winters of Western New York are a significant part of my life. Winter means pond hockey, sledding, waking up at 5 AM to shovel your driveway, and approximately four to five months of brutal introspection. For me Thursday’s War All The Time speaks most completely about this level of self reflexivity that inevitably descends upon me when the sun begins to go down at 5 PM and a wind chill factor above 40 degrees is a godsend. With Geoff Rickly’s chilling lyrics about death, suicide, and despair, the album provides a perfect soundtrack for solitary walks through the rust belt city I call home, acting for me – as it has for many other listeners – as a reminder that even in the depth of winter one can finally learn that there is in them an invincible summer.
Joe Ballard’s Choice: Ceilings by Alive In Wild Paint
For me, a great wintertime album is something quiet, slower-paced and calming, with reflective lyrics. Featuring former members of Terminal and Goodbye Tomorrow, Alive In Wild Paint’s one and only full-length is a lush, shimmering effort loaded with piano notes, acoustic guitars and Travis Bryant’s fragile, compelling vocals. From the minimalistic plucking of “God Gave Me a Gun” and “Cold Spell” to soft and restrained alternative rockers like “Anxious Disease” and “Children of Divorce,” Ceilings is the perfect companion on those cold, cloudy winter days when the world surrounds you with glistening snow, a bone-chilling breeze and bare tree branches.
Johnny Frazier’s Choice(s): Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas Eve by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
When I was young, I was exposed every year to the usual Christmas music you expect to hear again and again until you knew the soundtrack to “White Christmas” by heart. Then one day I heard Christmas Eve and Other Stories. My immediate thought was “THIS IS AWESOME!!!!” The rock, guitar riff-laden takes on some of the classic Christmas songs are still so much fun to listen to. I sort of broke the rules with this entry, as I could not just choose one of their albums to recommend. I think you should listen to the whole trilogy (it’s in a box set now!). Nothing takes me back to when I was a kid at Christmas quite like this music. If you don’t know this group, check out “Wizards in Winter” off of The Lost Christmas Eve, it should immediately be familiar to you, as one man’s Christmas light show has made it something of a seasonal pop-culture phenomenon.
Drew Maroon’s Choice: The Mantle by Agalloch
When I think of winter, the first thing that comes to mind is Agalloch’s The Mantle. I find it impossible to listen to The Mantle without having the feeling I’m trudging through a forest, ankle deep in snow, on an overcast, dimly-lit day. It invokes a feeling of desolation and hope, interweaving simple themes of nature, death and love which conjure a sense of peace as to life and passing; it builds, flourishes, collapses and flickers out in the howling of winter winds. One of my favorite albums of all time, The Mantle is a perfect winter album, even if you’re not a metal head. This is a metal album that can be approached and appreciated by everyone – fans and non-fans of the genre.
Jason Gardner’s Choice: As The Roots Undo by Circle Takes The Square
The dark, cold days of a Midwest winter can be tough on the mind and body. While upbeat and somber music alike can soothe those feelings, there’s a particular sense of self-reflection in the thought of those less exciting moments of the year. Circle Takes The Square’s As The Roots Undo harnesses happiness or sadness particularly, but the abrasive poeticism wound up by manic guitars and blistering drums can certainly be a surreal experience during a time where the mind can be particularly dulled by the surroundings of repeated drives through suburban and partially rural Michigan. It is that ability to take in and absorb that makes this record particularly enjoyable, not just during the winter, but through the year as well.
Jack Suitor’s Choice: Absence by Paper Route
What makes a good winter album? Obviously you need good songs to start with, but it helps to have a certain atmosphere too. The best example I can think of is Paper Route’s Absence, which, in my opinion, is a perfect embodiment of a winter-y mood. Maybe it’s the smooth and airy vocals, the warm synthesizers, the twinkling keys, the gentle guitars, or the mid-tempo percussion that keeps things from getting depressing, but whatever it is exactly, there is something magical about the record in December. And while there are certainly some standouts (the incredibly catchy but calm “Carousel,” the simply beautiful “Last Time” and the haunting “Gutter” are the first to come to mind), the record is the perfect indie-pop for wintertime throughout.
Jarrod Church’s Choice: And Winter Came by Enya
Perhaps I may be the only staffer to choose an “actual” Christmas album, but this New Age reflection displayed an almost perfect holiday collection of songs. The noteworthy theme of the record is a beautiful balance of light and dark. While Christmas is undoubtedly the happiest and brightest time of the year, it is also the darkest (getting scientific on you now). Enya’s brilliant balance between tracks is breathtaking, flowing from a classic, upbeat “Here Comes Santa Clause” type track (“Here Is In The Winter Night”) to the extremely dark and mysterious (“Journey Of The Angels”). Although there are many great holiday sounds – both Christmas related and non – Enya’s And Winter Came will always be a staple in December for this guy here.
Tim Dodderidge’s Choice: Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is a winter dreamscape. The most organic of instruments, including chilling guitars, horns, keyboards and flutes, remind listeners of the feelings evoked by nature, especially during the colder months. “Perth,” which frontman Justin Vernon describes as “Civil War heavy metal,” sounds like an auditory snowstorm. “Minnesota, WI” is a jazzy acoustic wonderland, while “Michicant,” guided by Vernon’s frizzy voice, clings to life by its own calmness. Even the lyrical content correlates to wintertime, with “Holocene” painting a vivid holiday scene (“Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright”). Bon Iver, Bon Iver may sound great all year round, but it evokes special emotions during the winter months. Whether it’s from the rich, soothing instrumentals, Vernon’s sentimental lyrical content, or some intangible aspect of the record, Bon Iver’s second album always seems to remind me of snow, ice, and Christmas.
Landon Defever’s Choice: Wildlife by La Dispute
When I first heard La Dispute’s incredible sophomore album Wildlife last year, needless to say, I was floored. The band hit all of the right tones, nuances and overall flow that was needed to follow their stunning freshman LP Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega & Altair. However, there was one thing stopping me from enjoying the album to its fullest: it just wasn’t the right time of year. While listening to the record, I just wasn’t interested in listening to something so ultimately depressing. On the right day, Wildlife can be an extremely enjoyable listening experience, but I wasn’t able to attach to the album’s dark subject material. However, once the weather got colder, I started to give the album a second chance…and I finally realized how stupid I was being. Wildlife is a masterpiece – 14 tracks that perfectly show how far the group has come in just five years. Tracks like “I See Everything,” “All Our Bruised Bodies and the Whole Heart Shrinks” and the thundering seven-minute epic “King Park” perfectly exhibit this, as they make for some of the strongest post-hardcore the scene has produced.
Jacob Testa’s Choice: The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse
There are a few ways you could go when picking an album to accompany winter. You could choose something smooth and warm to counteract the weather, or you could go with something bleak and abrasive to match it. This choice fits into the latter category. While a lot of Modest Mouse records could fit into that description, The Lonesome Crowded West is the one that first came to mind for me. While its focus is more towards urban sprawl, dirtier parts of human nature, and the destruction of what made the west The West, I think it fits the mood of the season well. There are some pretty parts to be found on the record, but also a lot of more ugly elements, covering a wide scope of emotion and experience. I love the winter and I love this album, the two together is a great pair. If you haven’t seen the Pitchfork documentary about this album, stop what you’re doing for 45 minutes and go watch it. It’s not like you were going to go outside or anything, anyhow.