December is the beginning of winter music season ~ not holiday music, but seasonal music, a soundtrack to the ice and snow. The music sounds fitting all the way through the new year, as the temperatures plummet, the wind howls, and people imagine polar explorers on the top and bottom of the world.
Earlier this year, we updated and expanded our most popular post, The 25 Best Winter Albums of All Time ~ now The 40 Best Winter Albums of All Time! As new winter music is always being released, this annual mini-chart serves as an addendum to that list. Some of these releases may eventually join that all-time roster. Five of the releases on this list were reviewed on our site earlier this year, and five are new, collected it in one place for your listening pleasure.
Our cover image comes from Frances Castle, and is available as part of a Seasonal Greetings postcard set based on the artwork for Cate Brooks’ Winterfest, listed directly below.
Cate Brooks ~ Winterfest (Clay Pipe Music)
This endearing late-year release sounds like home. Brooks’ gorgeous piano-based set eventually adds percussion, electronics and snow. By the end, a gentle storm has set in, but everyone is safe inside with a cozy fireplace and lots of food. When one is prepared, gazing outside is a comfort. The landscape slowly turns to white; the hills are blanketed in peace.
Daniel Menche ~ Frozen Ghosts (Self-Released)
The middle entry of Menche’s “Winter Trilogy” is its most powerful, a howling wind comprised of field recordings and electronics, inextricably blended. The artist may tag this as “noise,” but it’s a beautiful noise: desolate, forlorn, strangely inviting. The 40-minute piece intimates some strange fate at the end of the snow-covered path, which is definitely the one less traveled by.
David Cordero ~ Winter Landscape (ARCHIVES)
A few years ago, we fell in love with the ARCHIVES label because it seemed to release nothing but winter music. Since then, the label has expanded on its topics, but Winter Landscape is a return to what we love the most. This is the most soothing album on our list, lulling and spacious as its title. As a bonus, the album was mastered by Taylor Deupree, who also appears below.
Institute of Landscape and Urban Studies ~ Bodies of Water (Self-Released)
Melting Landscapes is now joined by Dammed Landscapes and Buried Landscapes, completing a trilogy that is now available in a boxed set. The Institute of Landscape and Urban Studies, under the direction of Christoph Girot, has been studying water in all its permutations, cataloging the effects of climate change and other human alterations; this exquisite set is their magnum opus.
Jesper Hansen ~ Images of Winter (Self-Released)
Hansen’s album might have been released a wee bit early, as climate change has extended our summers. But now it sounds just right, the piano and strings bearing melodies that sound like holiday invitations. “The Winter Bird” is a highlight, thanks to a gorgeous guest appearance by Chinese flute; a lovely Danish song finishes the set, which flows like undulating drifts.
Rasmus Östling ~ Vaste (Vertical Music)
The first of two Finnish recordings on our list, Vaste (Response) is a cold reflection of the southern coast, where devastating winds are often followed by desperate stillness. Wind, water and whistles become characters in a radio play. While electronics are present, the only clearly human sound is that of footsteps across a frozen terrain.
Staad ~ Staad (Self-Released)
Reaching deep into the past, Staad imagines the early Alpine settlers, worshipping ancient gods while playing instruments of bone and wood. The gods could be as cruel and indifferent as the unforgiving landscape, yet somehow they forged a path. From achingly sweet (“Totenlied”) to hauntingly dark, the album paints pictures like pigment on clay.
Steve Roden ~ stars of ice (Room40)
An old 78, a Chinese Christmas carol, and a miscellany of objects and loops coalesce on stars of ice, a single 33-minute piece rescued from the not-so-distant past, but sounding as ancient as the stars. The music peels at the edges like the lacquer of old photographs, one of which is recreated on the cover. The spell lasts as long as the music plays.
Taylor Deupree ~ Small Winters (Puremagnetik)
How long would you like your winter tracks to be? “Long Winter” fills all of Side A, while Side B is a collection of miniatures, the shortest only 82 seconds. Small Winters is also the name of a plug-in developed by Deupree and Micah Frank, available to those who wish to make their own thoughtful, drifting music, turning snowflakes into songs.
Vongoiva ~ Jatuli Observatory (Flaming Pines)
Jatuli Observatory is real life, composed in real time, the artists waiting out a vicious winter storm on the island of Jurmo (population: 12). Imagining Finnish giants, they recorded the sounds of the maelstrom, added Viking violin, and created short films to amplify their vision. The storm without became the storm within.