We have a soft spot for winter music, as do our readers. The 25 Best Winter Albums of All Time remains our all-time most-viewed post; every year, as the cold descends, we post an update as The Year’s Best Winter Music.
This year’s selections include generative music inspired by glaciers; ice cubes as percussion; and a trip through an Icelandic year. Readers will encounter the oppressive sounds of the frozen tundra, and the seemingly benign, but far more dangerous sounds of melting ice. Snow, Svalbard and penguins all make welcome appearances. As the cold months approach, let this be your swirling soundtrack! And now, in recommended listening order, A Closer Listen presents The Year’s Best Winter Music.
Our cover image comes from the series “Earth As Art,” in which the EROS Center collects US Geological Survey images from the Landsat 8 satellite network.
Cheryl E. Leonard ~ Watershed
“The lake is making weird sounds!” Hearing these words from a friend, Leonard got in her vehicle and tore off to a local California shore to capture the phenomenon on tape. Watershed is a collection of such landmark moments, along with playful improvisation on bird bones, crab claws and kelp ~ a performer having fun in an icy environment, oblivious to the cold.
moltamole ~ ° and so we heard them melt
This list’s quietest release bears the loudest message. Our glaciers are melting. The artist traveled to Greenland and Iceland to capture the sounds of dissolving ice. Light wind, passing traffic and chirping birds hide the sobering reality: Much of this water will never again freeze. The beauty of these sounds is tinged by melancholy, but the hope is that such feelings will lead to action on the part of the listener.
Matthew Burtner ~ Glacier Music (Ravello Records)
Be prepared for some lengthy tracks (a pair are over 23 minutes long), but for a good cause. Burtner recorded this album on Alaskan glaciers, capturing the sounds of air escaping from pockets and the booms of collapsing ice. This ensemble work (including strings and percussion) comes across as a beautiful elegy, but a pit in the stomach develops when we understand its message.
Jean-Philippe Gross ~ Curling (EICH)
Curling is one of the strangest winter sports, but it’s also oddly addictive. On this release, the sounds of curling are just as appealing as the sights. This contagiously upbeat soundscape celebrates winter, teamwork and the crazy things people do on ice.
Justin Wright ~ Music for Staying Warm (Sleepless Records)
Music for Staying Warm was recorded at the right time of year (winter in Montreal), but released at the wrong time of year (May, when we were trying on our old swimsuits and remarking how much they’d shrunk). The album was composed for a relaxation room, but is all about the idea of refuge: a warm winter fire, good friends, a few drinks around the hearth. And now its time has come!
Ô Lake ~ Refuge (Patchrock/Night-Night/Believe Digital)
Continuing on the theme of the above release, Ô Lake portrays a different form of refuge: the comfort that follows a loss. Piano and strings convey the feeling of a heart suspended in winter. The album is also a meditation on love and memory, perfectly suited to watching a long, slow snowfall.
Penguin Café ~ Handfuls of Night (Erased Tapes)
Many are concerned about global warming, but few are motivated enough to see it for themselves. It’s amazing to think that we have three on one list! Arthur Jeffes’ expedition followed in the footsteps of Robert Scott, and he was keen on meeting the penguins that inspired his moniker. This Greenpeace-commissioned set is a reminder that endangered beauty has a personality worth preserving.
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir and Passepartout Duo ~ A Northern Year
Tracing the position of the sun in the sky, Hafdís Bjarnadóttir (Sounds of Iceland) finds the inspiration for this short Reykjavik suite. The music stretches from solstice to solstice, covering the never-ending sunset, the tourist season, the return to white. In Iceland, it always comes back to winter, where the howling wind is a friend, an invitation to take one more walk before the blizzard arrives.
Blind Cave Salamander ~ The Svalbard Suite (Hypershape Records)
This gorgeous half-hour suite travels all over the map: footsteps on snow, the sound of a vault door closing, field recordings and narration, drone and drums, even a choir. While the LP is a celebration of the Seed Bank (on white vinyl!), it’s also a warning: the permafrost is melting around the storehouse of the world’s seeds, and the Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to midnight.
Haav ~ Flyt: Water Music
Ice crackle meets cold stream; ice cubes meet blown glass; finger snaps meet beats. Flyt (Flow) turns the sounds of water into percussion, concentrating on cold. This water music is winter music, an invitation to dance ~ indoors, outdoors, wherever the fancy may strike. Exposing the rhythms of nature, Haav offers a new reason to cherish the icy season.