ACL 2014: The Year’s Best Winter Music

StillnessWinter music is more subtle than Christmas music, with a wider tonal palette.  This music may inspire thoughts of snowmen on frozen fields, sled dogs and glaciers, hot chocolate and the hearth.  Listeners may be frolicking outdoors or snowed in, but whatever their conditions, this music provides the perfect score.  As temperatures continue to plummet and the animals find their winter homes, we’ll have this music to keep us warm.

2014 was easily the best year for winter music in recent memory.  With dozens of releases to choose from, it was impossible to narrow this feature down to ten, so we’ve chosen twelve, one for each month.  It’s going to be a long winter, so the more music, the better.  This year’s selections are listed in the order of activity, from frozen to thawed.  We hope that you’ll love what you hear!

Yann Novak ~ Snowfall (Dragon’s Eye)
A six-hour exhibition of sight and sound is whittled down to a single hour in this evocative recording, designed to capture the experience of a long, gentle snowfall.  This storm may unfold slowly, but the accumulation of flakes eventually provides an experience of subtle magnificence.

Review and purchase link

Esther Kokmeijer + Rutger Zuydervelt ~ Stillness (Self-released)
The grandeur of glaciers is caught in this short film (on USB stick) and score.  It’s no wonder that the original release sold out.  The score is now available from Glacial Movements, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.  Hope is high for a DVD re-issue; these are scenes that must be seen.

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Damian Valles ~ Exposure (Voxxov)
Cold, crisp and forlorn, Exposure is the sound of hard earth and unforgiving air.  As dark as the polar night, the music is devoid of compassion or any sign of warmth.  Those who survive will never be the same.  But will anyone be so lucky?

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Lawrence English + Werner Dafeldecker ~ Shadow of the Monolith (Holotype)
The sights and sounds of snow and wind grace this release, recorded in the Antarctic but mixed in Brisbane when the artists were able to feel their fingers again.  Numerous timbres come into play, underlining the richness of the area’s sonic field.

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Monolyth & Cobalt ~ Polarlicht (Time Released Sound)
While remaining in the Arctic region, Monolyth & Cobalt’s Polarlicht offers some movement and hope.  The explorers honored by the release did not always make it home, but those who did bore stories that were powerful enough to be passed down for generations.  The limited edition release is encased in an antique tin; a regular edition is also available.

polarlicht-slider-pic

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Otto A Totland ~ Pinô (Sonic Pieces)
This may not look like a winter album at first, until one realizes that Pinô‘s deep green hue is also that of Norwegian evergreens.  This quiet, peaceful piano set reflects the sedate nature of midwinter, when one is safe beside a fire with a good book and a warm drink.

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Monochromie ~ Winter (Self-released)
The second solo piano album to appear on our winter list is Pinô‘s extroverted twin.  Wilson Trouvé approaches the ivories with obvious joy, his notes dancing in whirlwinds rather than flurrying in a light breeze.  This is music for making snowmen and snow angels, catching flakes on the tongue.

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Nikita Bondarev ~ Siberian Loner (Klammklang)
Nikita Bondarev uses piano, strings and field recordings to communicate the isolation of a Siberian winter.  Caught in the middle of a storm, he rushes to safety just in time.  On the same label, we draw your attention to Galina Ozeran’s Seasons; we didn’t include it here since it covered all four seasons, but the 22-minute “Winter Silver” is astonishing.

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Heinali ~ Music to Sleep Under Snow (Self-released)
The sounds of chimes, bells and passing traffic joins piano and synthesized tones on this compact collection of Heinali’s winter tunes.  Oleg Shpudeiko has been making winter music for years, and his love for his subject matter shines through like sun through the pines.

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North Side Drive ~ Snow // Sea // Sky (Preserved Sound)
Piano and electronics join forces on this ebullient release from the one-man band Jonathan Pearson.  Consistently upbeat and sprinkled with sleigh bells, it’s a soundtrack to the season that’s impossible to resist, a perfect accompaniment to a happy winter gathering.

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Grzegorz Bojanek ~ Warm Winter Music (Twin Springs Tapes)
Here’s something everybody knows, but no one seems to talk about: sometimes winter isn’t cold.  Not everyone gets snow, even when one lives in a colder climate.  During the warmest winter in years, the artist was inspired to write this organic/electronic suite, which remembers the cold that was meant to arrive, but never did.

Review and purchase link

Lullatone ~ while winter whispers (Self-released)
You didn’t think we’d miss this one, did you?  The third installment of Lullatone’s seasonal series is a soft explosion of instrumentation, childlike in nature and innocent in tone.  The pure joy of the season is apparent throughout, as Shawn and Yoshimi recommend that the music is played while “watching your breath come out like little clouds” or “warming your hands on coffee mugs.”  Happy winter!

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Richard Allen

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