For Varying Degrees of Winter

The title is taken from Lawrence English’s classic winter album, released in 2007.  The music comes from across the globe: ten artists, ten countries, ten new releases, each attempting to put their stamp on the season before it melts away.  From frigid temperatures to fragile thaw, these works represent the varying degrees of winter.

There are two competing views of when winter ends and begins.  First, there’s the meteorological winter, which in the Northern Hemisphere includes only the three coolest months (December, January and February).  Then there’s the astronomical (calendar) winter, which stretches until March 20.  In the Southern Hemisphere, the roles are reversed; at the poles, winter never seems to leave; and near the equator, what we consider winter never comes at all.  As this article is published, some readers are in the midst of it; some have left it behind; and others are preparing for the first chill.  Here at A Closer Listen, we love winter music, and we don’t want to put it away before experiencing one last storm.

Ambient

Giuseppe Fallivene ~ Breeze EP (Shimmering Moods)
When I told the Amsterdam label, “This release sounds really cold!”, their response was “cold like the weather over here, but somehow this release keeps us warm inside!”  The ambient tones comfort the listener like warm blankets, while static snowflakes decorate the frosty windows.  This is the perfect music for settling in and cuddling up.  The music is gentle, but rests just under the freezing mark: not frigid, just cold enough to produce a thin coating.  In “A cold day”, the sound of children playing reminds us of the positive aspects of the season: the invitation to go outside and to revel in the clean white landscape.  And whether we stay in or venture out, we know a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream will be waiting.

 

Gallery Six ~ Snow Light (ARCHIVES)
It’s tempting to hear Snow Light as an album of spring melt; after all, the sound of flowing water is present throughout, along with birdsong and an impression of nature in flux.  But titles “Icy Pond” and “Early Winter” imply that the album is about nature caught off guard.  Waterfowl splash in “Passage”, implying life, migration and the pursuit of fish.  There are various stops along the way, each one a little homecoming.  And like the EP above, the album contains the sound of children.  Still, it’s a lot colder than Breeze, the lake nearly frozen, the streets frosting over, the birds flying for their lives.  Gallery Six (Hidekazu Imashige) has produced another evocative album, one that can be used on either side of the season.  Whether the water is flowing because it is still above freezing or because it has just been freed matters little; what matters is it flows.

 

Northaunt ~ Istid III (Glacial Movements)
Glacial Movements is a perfect new home for Northaunt (Norway’s Hærleif Langås), whose Istid I-II was released on Cyclic Law back in 2015.  Each label specializes in ambience, but Glacial Movements concentrates on the cold.  Trondheim isn’t the coldest spot in Norway, but it’s cold enough to inspire a tribute to the time before civilization, when winter was not something to be endured, but to be survived.  While listening, one thinks of wide open spaces, saber-toothed tigers, the danger of falling into a crevasse.  Decorating his stretched tones with field recordings of water, ice and the struggle to stay warm, Langås brings the Ice Age to life.  In one sense, this period of history holds a primal appeal: space, silence, solitude.  In another, one yearns for each human voice to be joined by another.  These inhabitants long for connection, but don’t know the other is there.

 

Tapes & Topographies ~ Fathom (Simulacra)
The album is awash in melancholy, a reflection of the cold, dark deep.  The cover image and music bring to mind the scene in A.I. when David and Teddy become frozen and trapped at the bottom of the sea.  With titles such as “A Year of Disappointments” and “Were It More Luminous”, the album seems a reflection of rumination.  In “The Trouble With Dreams”, tape sounds squiggle across the sonic field, attempting to find bearing as the harbor chimes toll.  Yet there is also solace in knowing that others are going through the same thing, struggling yet sinking.  In another sense, to to fathom means to understand, and this album reaches for the soul with a consoling, empathetic hand.  The music may be slow and sorrowful, but the eventual impression is one of comfort.

 

SVLBRD ~ Stratus (FAINT)
As the head of the ARCHIVES and FAINT labels, Agustín Mena (also known as Warmth) has been responsible for a visible percentage of the world’s winter music.  The dub-inflected ambience of his first love, SVLBRD, is on full display here.  Winds whip, sleet beats against the glass, and yet no fear is involved.  The ensuing feeling is one of envelopment, as in a cloud.  “Vessel” is the first standout, an aural memento of a Spanish winter.  The beats are not always present, a reflection of the shifting moods of the sky and season.  The title track is as lofty and layered as its namesake.  Yet the album is about mood, and deserves to be heard as a whole.  To settle into this music is to surrender in safety.  Mena has made his peace with winter, and through his labels, gives us reason to love it year-round.

 

Electronic

Janusz Jurga ~ Duchy Rogowca (Opus Elefantum Collective)
A cold wind blows over the opening track, followed by frantic digging.  Is this person preparing a shelter or burying a body?  The answer is unclear, as the album deals with forgotten folklore and five ghosts “looming from elderly pines”.  The techno beats take a while to arrive, but when they do, they don’t let go.  Still, it’s not as much about the beats ~ dark, murky and unrelenting ~ as it is about the atmosphere.  Crows caw, rivers flow, and the cold Polish green feels as electrified as thunder snow.  Despite the warnings, one enters this forest in order to follow the sounds.  Once those ghosts start speaking, one looks around for an exit, but the trees have moved.  This enthralling album reminds us that the oldest trees predate some of our civilizations, and know the secrets that would cost us too much to learn.

 

Molécule ~ -22.7°C (Because Music)
Last time we encountered Romain Delahaye, he was spending a month on a fishing boat in the Atlantic Ocean, capturing its sounds for 60° 43Nord.  Fast-forward a bit, and he’s on his way to Greenland ~ specifically the Inuit village of Tiniteqilaaq.  This dedication to craft is rare in any field, but this artist wants his fans to get their money’s worth ~ hence the special packaging (see article image for vinyl).  Early teaser track “Violence” is as aggressive as one might expect, a pure club stormer with human and canine interjections; but “Aria” tones it down with cold breath, and “Sila” is downright lovely, as seen and heard in the video below.  There’s plenty more where these came from, frozen together as part of an evocative glacial suite.  The artist calls his project “self-reflective”, but we’re blinded by the sunlight on the snow.

Modern Composition

Lucy Claire ~ String Works (1631 Recordings)
The first of a series of EPs to be released throughout the year, String Works is a remarkable return for the too-long-quiet composer Lucy Claire.  “It Is Winter Here”, she declares on the first track, a short, smoldering suite that jumps and retreats like gusts of snow.  We hear the sounds of weather on the subsequent track, winding around the strings like mist.  Despite its brevity, the EP demonstrates the greatest amount of dynamic contrast of any entry in this article, in some parts as quiet as a flurry and in others as loud as a blizzard, in “Mourners Matinée” accomplishing the feat within a single track.  The Iskra String Quartet lends a series of hands to the closing piece, but this is Claire’s triumph, through and through; she invites us into the heart of the storm, and we are delighted to follow.

 

DMLLL ~ Short Tales of Winter (Verses)
Turkish violinist Damla Bozkurk (DMLLL) sits slightly askew on a red velvet chair, looking as imperious as a character from Game of Thrones.  Yet her mission is a noble one: to watch over the children “who die of the cruelty of the world”.  All of her proceeds have been earmarked for children’s charities.  These Short Tales of Winter are inspired by the original versions of fairy tales in which all ends badly; it’s a reflection of thwarted expectation.  Her playing is measured, dramatic, and powerful.  One imagines her playing in front of a fire while the tales are read.  Occasional bass and piano augment her playing, but the violin is the commander, building from sadness to frenzy in “Drown” and flipping the script in the following track.  “Although” provides the most succinct summary of her talents; on the basis of this EP, we feel she’s already ready for an album.

 

Post-Rock/Shoegaze

Winterlight ~ The Longest Sleep Through the Darkest Days (n5MD)
Such a pretty mint green vinyl, like a Girl Scout cookie. The last of our winter releases emerges in its final days, and celebrates a time of reawakening.  The piano is gentle, the other instruments euphoric, bursting like petals on the first spring day.  Fans of The Echelon Effect and The American Dollar will be enthralled.  The music doesn’t sound like winter; it sounds like getting through winter, as it looks back on sadness, seasonal affective disorder, and the inability to get out of bed.  Despite its look, the LP is upbeat and holds a sweet backstory: once a solo project, Winterlight is now a father and daughter duo.  The passing of the torch is like the shared space between winter and spring.  As the title track builds to a soft, slow release, we give thanks for the season that has passed and look forward to the season that is to come.

Richard Allen

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