Jan 28, 2015
Songs for the Snow: A Winter Playlist
I know: It’s over. Snow fell, and we all survived and nobody is trapped inside with nothing to do but huddle together and pray that the seltzer doesn’t run out. (Which, by the way, all those kale jokes were way off the mark in terms of what most of Brooklyn really depends on: sparkling water.) And yet, despite the lack of an actual blizzard, the fact remains that it’s still winter. It’s still cold. And so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to engage in a little hibernation and pretending, at least for a little while, that we are all forcibly housebound. But for all that time you’re trapped inside, you’ll need something to listen to, won’t you?
It’s no secret that music is a seasonal thing: There are songs for the summer, for a rainy spring, for the holidays, songs with the word “November” in their titles, and even songs that sound like snow. But perhaps no time of year needs its own type of music than the seemingly endless doldrums of winter, this specific type of year where the days are almost uniformly bitter and bleak, and time seems to drag. Here then, is a soundtrack for the white days and dark nights of deepest winter. You can save it for the next storm (you know one’s bound to come sometime), or you can listen to it now, in the quiet, cold space of yet another interminable winter.
The beauty in this instrumental track from Björk’s achingly beautiful Vespertine, is that it’s hard to determine of what it’s most evocative: falling snow or falling stars. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Maybe it’s ok to just let the song drift over and settle upon you, like a blanket of snowy, starry sound.
Angel Olsen, “White Fire”
Olsen’s voice and lyrics pierce you—a stab with an icicle, right to the heart. And much like that weird phenomenon in which people dying from hypothermia have the sudden need to shed all their clothes because they feel like they’re burning, there’s that same duality that comes with listening to Olsen: she makes you feel the ice and the fire all at once.
My Bloody Valentine, “Soft as Snow [But Warm Inside]”
So, this is a song that is fine to listen to by yourself, but that is even better to listen to with someone else, preferably someone with whom you want to get close and warm up, no matter how cold it is outside. But even if you are alone, the driving, building intensity of this song is plenty to help you stay warm (if not hot, if not bothered!) all by yourself.
Elliott Smith, “Angel in the Snow”
There can be no snowy day playlist coming out of Brooklyn that doesn’t feature Elliott Smith, whose songs are arguably all anyone needs to get through the winter. And maybe life. It’s not just a little bit sad that it’s impossible to visit Smith’s old Fifth Avenue haunt O’Connors anymore (thanks, Barclays Center) and raise one in Smith’s honor, but you can make yourself feel better (or maybe worse!) by listening to “Angel in the Snow” while contemplating the undeniable truth that everything we love—including ourselves—will one day just be nothing more than “a frozen still life,” lying down forever.
Yo La Tengo, “Winter A-Go-Go“
And now for something a little more upbeat?! Or, you know, not really! Musically, sure. This infectious Yo La Tengo song is impossible not to move to a little bit as you sing along. But, uh, what are you singing about exactly? Icy water and eyes filled with desperation and walls closing in and, well, this song pretty perfectly mirrors that false sense of security we feel during the winter, a sense that we’re protected from the harsh conditions of the reality just outside our windows. The truth is, of course, that veneer of safety is as thin as ice, and the icy water could come flooding in at any time.
Azealia Banks, “Ice Princess”
So, you know, some of us actually like winter, and thus want an anthem that proves how hard we actually own this, the most brutal time of year. Banks provides us with just that anthem, as she boasts that she’s “colder than December,” so cold she’s “dripping icicles;” she commands: “All hail the supreme ice princess.” With pleasure.
The Pastels, “Frozen Wave”
This beautiful, drifting song—whose gorgeous instrumental beginning almost makes you hope that no human voice will disrupt its purity, until one does and it’s like yesssss—does indeed feel like a wave that crashes over and over you. But it’s not the wave that’s frozen—it’s you. And it’s this song that warms you right up.
Tokyo Police Club, “Juno”
Oh, Juno aka Blizzard of 2015. What is there to say about you? You were so anticlimactic. And in the words of Tokyo Police Club: “Juno, you’re tired.” And yet, you also deposited inches and inches of pure white (for now) snowy goodness all over this city, and made us all pause for a little while and contemplate the power of nature. So, you know, you weren’t all bad. So maybe you weren’t so bad. You “painted our place white” and you knew we had a wound that “would need ice.” And really, maybe that’s all we needed. Time will tell.
John Cale, “Ski Patrol”
Cale sounds like Springsteen in this song, as he sings about the need we all have to be rescued, at all times really, but maybe especially in the winter, when it’s easier than ever to fall down and down and down, and so you really want someone to be there to make sure you’re all right.
Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm”
The apocalyptic underpinnings of this song are just right for winter, which, of course, is not a time of apocalypse, but a time of gestation. Things aren’t dying now. They’re dead already. What we’re going through now is the most pregnant time of year, a time for planning, for waiting, for finding shelter in the right person’s arms. Dylan reminds us of the importance of all that, and of the role hope plays in getting through just about everything in this cold, cold world.
The Rolling Stones, “Winter”
Yes, Mick: It has been a cold, cold winter. It’s been cold and it’s been hard and we’re all dragging a little bit right now. But, really, what this song serves as a reminder of, is that it is a choice to be here in this New York winter. Some people (like Mick) wish they’d just headed off to California for the winter, participating in a seasonless existence, which to me anyway, hardly seems like it’s barely an existence at all. In fact, even the mere evocation of California should serve as a reminder that no matter how cold it gets here, things could always be worse: You could live in LA.
Lana Del Rey, “Summertime Sadness”
And finally, is there anyone to better remind us that there’s sadness to every season—not just winter—than Lana Del Rey? No, there’s no one better. And just as Lana twins the emotions of sadness and ecstasy in this ballad about the electric, sizzling air of the summer, the same thing can be applied to winter. They’re twin seasons of duality and extremes, times when the temperature outside never comes close to matching what it feels like on the inside. And that’s ok, because it means we’re feeling something, you know? You know.
You can listen on Spotify here.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen
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