Thanks to climate change, many of us are experiencing longer, colder winters. It’s no surprise that winter music is also on the rise. This was a particularly good year for the genre, as demonstrated in two early-year round-ups. Now that the weather is turning cold again, many of us have already experienced frost-furling lows and record-setting snows.
These composers understand the season of white, and their works reflect their cold passion. These are songs to play indoors by a raging fire, or perhaps while driving through snow on the way to a family gathering. They remind us not only of our own winters, but of regions locked in permanent winter: Eskimos on the hunt, explorers trapped in ice, the unforgiving tundra.
And now, in suggested listening order, A Closer Listen presents The Year’s Best Winter Music!
Institute of Landscape Architecture ~ Melting Landscapes
Our pick for Best Winter Album of the Year is this evocative set from Christoph Girot and a group of students, researchers and teachers in Zurich. The physical edition is a wonder, with black-and-white photography and a record that looks like snow. The field recordings are pristine: ice and wind, cracks and bubbles. Yet this beauty reflects a more serious theme, as the project investigates the effects of climate change. Ironically, we may be hearing more sounds like these in the coming years, but not from glaciers; this may become the sound of our own backyards.
Giuseppe Falivene ~ Breeze EP (Shimmering Moods)
The EP begins with a light crackle and drone, like the very start of a storm, when there’s still enough time to procure supplies and cold-proof the home. As the mercury continues to drop, the snow begins to accumulate. The most beautiful track, “A cold day,” arrives last, but by this time we’re all cozy and warm, watching the children play on the lawn.
Powlos ~ Pareidolia (Faint)
The twin Faint and Archives labels have been impressing us all year with a slate of winter-minded, ambient releases. For the sake of fairness, we’ve listed only one here. While it was hard to choose a favorite, we’ve decided to go with the year’s very first release. Just as we were in the clutches of cold, this album came along to provide a score to our shivering. Label founder SVLBRD features on the album’s standout cut, “Humanaire.”
Capac ~ Through the Dread Waste (This Is It Forever)
Inspired by Robert Cooper’s “Winter Morning,” Through the Dread Waste is a reminder of the days before home heating, when survival was a hope, rather than a given. Dark timbres tumble as the set unfolds, building to and receding from a recitation of the poem. To access the files, one must burn a small log: a physical link to the not-too-distant past.
Ugasanie ~ Ice Breath of Antarctica (Cryo Chamber)
Okay, now it’s cold. Really, really cold. This dark ambient masterpiece builds slowly and deliberately, but is relentless in its eventual power. There’s no bargaining in Antarctica, just a swift surrender to the elements, which on this album seem cold enough to freeze sound. “The Pole of Absolute Coldness” is the center of this soft yet savage storm.
Simon Šerc ~ Bora Scura (Pharmafabrik/Sonospace)
The Slovenian town of Ajdovščina experiences a yearly average of 42 days of 200kph wind known as Bora. The field recordist traveled to the town to capture these frightening yet alluring sounds. This doesn’t sound like a place one wants to walk around ~ it’s certainly not worth the risk to pop down to the pub for a pint. (Imagine the froth blowing away, then the glass, then the person holding it!) But this does make for a very exciting album, as one man’s courage becomes our collective treat.
Janusz Jurga ~ Duchy Rogowca (Opus Elefantum Collective)
A cold wind launches the album, followed by the sound of shoveling. The effort is likely to be in vain, as the storm is soon to turn relentless. This is a soundtrack to a dark Polish winter, a forest filled with ghosts, even harder to see when white on white. The album is dark and filled with tales taut enough to keep one up throughout the night. When that cold wind brings beats, one may be tempted to dance; but be careful when a hand takes yours; it may not be alive.
Molécule ~ -22.7°C (Because Music)
Demonstrating commitment to a cause, Romain Delahaye traveled to an Inuit village to record samples for his newest cold masterpiece. “Sila” is the highlight, a sonic sample of how one might, with proper clothing and shelter, enjoy living in an otherwise hostile environment. But for the danger of winter, play “Violence,” marked by angry dogs, chants and devastating beats. Perhaps it’s best just to visit.
Manu Delago ~ Parasol Peak (One Little Indian)
So far we’ve met a university team recording glaciers, a field recordist braving winds and an electronic artist traveling to an Inuit village. Now we find an entire band (along with film crew) walking into the Alps to record an entire album, a project that must have seemed relatively easy (bundle up!) before the big storm hit. But there they remained, toughing it out despite the risk. The results can be heard and seen in Parasol Peak, along with the palpable relief they feel when they reach base camp.
Terje Isungset ~ Beauty of Winter (All Ice)
Terje Isungset has made friends with winter. His instruments are made out of ice (ice bells, ice mallets, ice horns), and his music incorporates Inuit folk and whale song. Beauty of Winter is only the latest of a string of winter albums stretching back two decades. The founder of Norway’s Ice Festival, Isungset encourages those afraid of the season to embrace its brighter aspects. Many of us love Christmas; why not embrace winter as well?