Only a month left until the end of Winter. It’s been a strange one : the temperature went below – 20 Celsius almost every day during Christmas holidays, then it rained for a few days, then – 20 again… But we’ve had lots of snow, which is great. And the sparkling snow of the last few days has inspired me…
I find that the overall atmosphere, my mood, and the music I listen to are often linked. That’s when I get most into it at least. My spouse and children on the other hand don’t appear to crave that same kind of serenity and often go for the complete opposite : they happily try to break the mood as brutally as possible. I was enjoying a mellow wintery Sunday morning vibe when “I got it from my daddy” from Gangnam Style’s illustrious Psy threw me and my delicious coffee out of the chair. So much for feeling one with the universe.
And so I retreat here to share my spontaneous top 20 list of CDs for the Winter season. It’s too bad that I wasn’t inspired before, because the indie folk person that I am would have found it a lot more natural to start with Fall. But it’s a nice challenge.
What makes a good Winter CD is still a mystery to me at this moment. I think it has a lot to do with sensory perceptions. Good Winter albums should be atmospheric albums that make you see and hear the evening snow falling down. They might feel a little Christmassy too (with piano music that sounds like bells, for example). Will finding the recipe kill the magic? Let’s see when I’m done.
Runner up : David Usher, Little Songs
David Usher’s first solo album is a hit and miss, the songs are uneven, but there are a few strong ones (like Saint-Lawrence River). I usually end up listening to the same four-five songs, but still, there is a nice atmosphere, a bit wintery, like an early Winter in late November. I never heard his other solo albums but I should, there was potential there.
20. We are Wolves, Invisible Violence
I’ll bet that these guys listen a lot to Ozzy Osbourne. The singer sounds exactly like him, but backed by an indie electronic rock band. We are Wolves’ third album is harder and louder than most albums on this list, but the electronic and rock atmosphere inspire the vision of an open snowscape (and after seeing the memorable Blue video, that image is kind of ingrained in my head).
19. Lamb, Best Kept Secrets
Lamb is a nice little mix of electronic, trip hop, and drum and base, with a jazzy twist. This “best of” album gathers very different songs (many of them singles, hence the need for a best of), but Lou Rhodes’ jazzy husky voice ties them all together. The drum and base element is also a strong point. It’s nice to listen to this while casually working on the computer, in front of my snow covered window.
18. Massive Attack, Mezzanine
Another trip hop album… This feels right, yet contradictory. I definitely see some kind of snowy scenery, but am I trying to warm myself up ? In a cabin perhaps, with a fire burning. In any case, I just had the most intense flashback of the late 1990s. Perhaps this reminds me of chilling inside with friends when there’s a snowstorm outside. The sound fills the room and some of it escapes outside in the night, into the storm, and brings the vibe… to no one. Trippy.
17. Lhasa De Sela, The Living Road
Another hot-cold paradox. Lhasa De Sela has a deep and warm voice. She mixes different cultural influences into her music, and her songs are in Portuguese, French, and English. So, how does this one work… Nature unleashing its wrath, wind sweeping the snow away, and this woman with a broken heart is still standing, sharing her emotional stories with outstanding aplomb.
16. Patrick Watson, Close to Paradise
On Patrick Watson’s first release, vocals and piano are upfront. Some songs do stand out, like Luscious Life, but overall, the album sounds like an endless string of magical sparkling piano sounds.
15. Wray, Hypatia
I’m walking in a dreamy snow storm right now.
14. Portishead, Portishead
The haunting songs on Portishead’s second album work quite well for the Winter season. Incidentally, they make me think of walking around downtown during Québec’s 1998 ice storm. For weeks, several cities went without power. In Montréal, they called in the army to help cut down frozen branches that came crashing down. It was chaos all over, but people were really supportive of one another. My best friend lived in the smallest apartment downtown but she had heat, and I stayed with her for a few days. All day, we’d listen to music on our CD players or radios that could also function on batteries. When you’re 18, that works out just fine.
13. Malajube, La caverne
Malajube’s third release is as innovative as always. These guys are great composers and musicians. One of the signature moves of this band is to turn up the sound of the instruments and to lower the sound of the voice. That way, the voice (whisper) just blends in and adds to the atmosphere. The unexpected melodies and hooks make the Winter days feel pretty darn cool.
12. Yann Tiersen, Goodbye Lenin
11. Nina Simone, Jazz Masters 17
I couldn’t find the cover of the Jazz Masters album… Too bad, it still makes the cut. Nina Simone is one of the most amazing one-of-a-kind voices that has ever been, and her unique bluesy style is the best thing to warm you up on Winter evenings. This CD is a great way to start if you’re unfamiliar with her work : Work Song, Love Me or Leave Me, Pirate Jenny, Mississipi Goddamn, Little Girl Blue, Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair… You’ll want to know more for sure.
10. Bjork, Post
Perhaps it’s because of the song Hyperballad, but when I listen to Post, I always think of Bjork on the top of a snowy mountain in Iceland, happy and serene in front of a sparkling white open and windy scenery, screaming and wondering if her voice reaches the other side. For some reason, the image I have of her is in a simple white dress with no shoes… yet she’s not cold at all. Bjork’s voice is amazing enough that it doesn’t have to be warm at all, because it’s… celestial, perhaps? Flying upwards over the icy moutain.
9. Dustin Tebbutt, Home
I like Dustin Tebdutt’s album covers. This artist indeed crafts beautiful album covers, as well as clever and soothing melodies, and the imagery lifts your head up to the stars. It feels beautiful and a bit lonely, just like a silent Winter snowscape. But the colours, especially the contrats of colours, are always very stark in Winter.
8. The Cure, Disintegration
The Cure’s mellow melodic, melancholic and introspective songs flow perfectly from one to the other on this album, which is important for the atmosphere to build up. And so it builds up, like sparkling snowflakes pilling up little by little. Speaking about things flowing, Robert Smith’s voice flows perfectly over the music. It appears out of the mist, and disappears in the same manner.
7. La bottine souriante, La Mistrine
La bottine souriante is traditional music in Québec, especially for those who are of French descent. Generations of people played and listened to this kind of music when they took a break to celebrated the holidays together. I heard there was always one or more people in families who played the violin, the accordeon, or who could drum with their hands and feet like there was no tomorrow! La Mistrine was the first album my sisters and I would put on Christmas night when we were kids. When the first song Le reel des soucoupes volantes started, we knew the party had begun!
6. Belle and Sebastian, If you’re feeling sinister
If you’re feeling sinister is exactly the CD I had in mind when I thought of writing this post : a soft moody album that makes you want to curl up on your comfy chair with a book and a glass of wine on the weekend, around 4 or 5 PM, when the light changes outside and the evening sky becomes blueish. Yeah, I’ve done that quite a few times with this CD on, and it never disappoints.
5. Tori Amos, Under the Pink
A young girl at my highschool played Winter on the piano once at some ceremony or something and I thought that was the best thing I had ever heard, so I bought Under the Pink and discovered Tori Amos. This feels like a very honest album and it puts the emphasis on the piano melodies and the soothing vocals. The songs go straight to your heart, and your mind gets lost in Tori’s very personal and evocative imagery.
4. Radiohead, Kid A
Ice age coming! Kid A is a wonderful album. Radiohead experiments with various sounds and effects, and all we can say is that these guys definitely have an ear for music. It’s amazing how well this album has aged. These sensitive lyrics, backed by the perfect soundscape, can almost bring you to your knees (as the overwhelming How to Dissapear Completely does).
3. Yann Tiersen, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain Soundtrack
One of France’s biggest movie successes also brought Yann Tiersen’s music to international fame (ironically, Tiersen said he wasn’t satisfied with it), which is not that frequent for instrumental albums. The story of Amélie Poulain does not take place in Winter, but the music, the accordeon, the little bell sounds, the rythm, it has a lovely “Christmassy” feel.
2. Vince Guiraldi Trio Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special
The joy of getting or the joy of giving? Not many Christmas specials have been as good as the original 1963 Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It had everything : social comment on consumerism, glitter vs substance, alienation, … And for one extremely rare moment, everyone rallies around Charlie Brown at the end to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. That being said, this album is classy all on its own with cool jazzy versions of Christmas favorites. This is one of the rare Christmas albums I never get tired of.
1. A Message to Bears, Departures
The beautiful atmospheric Departures fits really well on a melancholic snowy day. The album doesn’t necessarily lift your mood, but it certainly accompanies your moody self on your moody journey and delicately expands your horizons. This is an enjoyable musical exploration, courtesy of English multi-instrumentalist Jerome Alexander. Now, does the message reach the bears, have they replied, and what did they say?