Archive for January, 2012

Songs About Winter

January 20, 2012

Please forgive that the opening anecdote in this blog is about travelling through South America. I mean, I hate Jack Johnson, so it’s ok, right? Right. Here goes…

I was once on a night bus travelling from the Bolivian salt flats to La Paz. When we went to book bus tickets for the journey, we asked the seller whether there was central heating on the bus. He insisted there was heating. At least, we think he did. My Spanish, at its best, would accurately be described as “patchy”. After we’d booked the tickets, we went to get a few drinks in us, so we’d be able to sleep on the bus. This was a poor decision on my part, as I have the bladder capacity of an 86 year-old diabetic. When we eventually got on the bus at 9pm, the decision to drink seemed even poorer, since there were no toilets on the bus. However, at least there would be central heating, right? No.

It was around ten minutes into the journey that I realised, through the haze of mild intoxication, the following two things: first, that there was no heating on board the bus; secondly, that there was a small crack in the window beside me, blowing cold air right at my chest. I looked around me. Everyone else on this bus, bar me and my friend Tom, was wearing at least three layers of clothing. Some had sleeping bags. I was wearing skinny jeans and a stripy t-shirt. Sure, I looked the nuts, but things might get a bit chilly. To be specific, -10 degrees Celsius chilly. Following this journey, I drank my body weight in whisky in an attempt to warm up and Tom ended up with an infection that, had it spread to his lungs, would have given him pneumonia. It wasn’t quite ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ punishment, but it was, in fairness, probably everything a couple of idiots travelling around South America deserved. It was so cold that I began to believe that, if I listened to the right song, I could keep warm. Specifically, wintery songs that would make me think sitting in a cabin, by a log fire, with a dog by my side. I was being a little too specific, perhaps. One thing I didn’t want were songs that were overly summery. Hearing ‘Here Comes The Sun’ would have been too much. It would have seemed like a sarcastic assault on my ears. No, I thought, the songs must be wintery if they are to warm me.

Now, I cannot remember every song I played on that journey, but thinking of it did make me realise that when it’s cold outside and there’s frost on the ground, I do like to soundtrack that with the right songs. Below are ten songs that I’m likely to turn to around winter time. I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify, which I’ve left open. Please feel free to add your own winter warmers to the list.

1. Aztec Camera – Walk Out To Winter

As a rule of thumb, the best winter songs are usually written/recorded by bands with an idea of what a proper winter is all about. The best winter songs have mostly been written by bands or artists from the Northern US States (Sufjan Stevens ‘Sister Winter’, Bon Iver ‘Blood Bank’), Canada (Joni Mitchell ‘River’, Neil Young ‘Winterlong’), Iceland (Bjork ‘Hunter’, Sigur Rós ‘Svefn-g-englar’) and, of course, Scotland. Aztec Camera, if you didn’t know already, hail from the latter and this song from their astonishing debut album is my favourite song to make me feel warm on a frosty day. It’s a wintery-swoon of a song, with jaunty guitar riffs that make you want to wrap up warm and get out into the cold, striding through the ice and snow.

2. Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground

As a flipside to Aztec Camera, Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ is one to listen to when you’re wrapped warm. I listen to it so often when I’m wrapped up warm in the winter, that I remember listening to it on that bus ride, to remind me of what being warm felt like. It’s a song that normally runs through me like a chill, with Blind Willie Johnson’s mournful moan sounding like it’s coming from six feet under the ground. Brrr

3. Cocteau Twins – Iceblink Luck

The Scots at it again. Elizabeth Fraser’s gorgeous vocals, almost comprehensible for once, provide a warm glow at the front of a glacial wall of sound.

4. Galaxie 500 – Listen, The Snow Is Falling

Massachusetts shoegaze pioneers Galaxie 500 give Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling’ the full psychedelic treatment. The ebb and flow of the track, from its soft slower moments, to the full storm at the end, feels like the soundtrack to a blizzard.

5. Radiohead – Idioteque

I could have picked almost any track from Kid A, the whole of which has an arctic feel to it, but my personal winter favourite is Idioteque. The elliptical, apocalyptic lyrics about “women and children first” and “ice age coming”, along with Thom Yorke’s beautiful, strangled vocals make this a song to chill any room. It’s a song that could turn all dance floors to ice, yet still keep everyone dancing.

6. British Sea Power – Oh Larsen B

It’s a love song dedicated to a collapsed Antarctic ice shelf. What is there not to love?

7. Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence

This reminds me of my childhood. Most of my formative musical memories revolve around Simon & Garfunkel, Prince and The Beatles’ Red and Blue albums. Whereas The Beatles put me in mind of summer afternoons dancing around my front room, Simon & Garfunkel always remind me of winters curled up on a couch. This just pips ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’.

8. Bloc Party – So Here We Are

This is another personal one for me. This album came out when I was living in York and I specifically remember listening to it whilst passing a spectacular snow-covered York Minster. Just as this song played on my headphones another snow-storm started up. I stood there looking up and letting the snow fall onto me for the whole length of the song. I probably looked mentally ill. I still don’t care. For better or worse, every time it snows I think of this song.

9. Prince – Sometimes It Snows In April

Ok, so it’s a song about bereavement, but it’s one of my all-time favourite ballads. Musically, it’s a nod to one of Prince’s main influences, Joni Mitchell. Late snow is something that, coming from Minneapolis, Prince would know all about. It’s delicate, intimate and exquisite.

10. The Ronettes – Walking In The Rain

Wrapping up (boom-tish) my top ten, are The Ronettes, who make walking out in the rain (something that, living in England, is the weather I’m most likely to encounter in winter) sound positively joyous. In reality, a saunter during a winter downpour is likely to leave me despondent, with damp socks and sodden trousers. Thanks, “The Ronettes”.