The best albums for a wintersleep

By gaspipe gaspipe
updated about 1 month ago

The coldest days of the year are upon us...
The winter season brings to mind notions of isolation and desolation. Music itself acts as a cathartic medium, capable of supplementing or defining how the weather makes you feel. Frankly, the two go hand in hand. Here are some essential winter albums that spark similar feelings of solitude.

  1. Boards Of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children

    No other album goes better with a cup of hot chocolate, Snuggie and the feeling of total desolation that winter brings than Boards of Canada’s opus, Music Has the Right to Children. The record blends disorienting interludes like “The Color of the Fire” and “One Very Important Thought” with gorgeous, lengthy compositions such as “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” and “Pete Standing Alone,” which turn from ambient washes of sound to splintered rhythms at the drop of a hat. Ultimately, the 1998 album’s greatest strength is the fluidity with which it manages the shading of these different textural identities; Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin seem to be almost unaware that what they’re making is music rather than aural representations of colors shifting on a canvas. The overall effect is ethereal and moody, given the largely downtempo rhythms and soft-spoken instrumentals, making it a fitting accompaniment to the natural feeling winter can bring.

  2. Tortoise - TNT

    Expected to continue the post-rock faction, Tortoise delved into a new fusion of dub and electronics to turn more heads with their masterpiece third album, TNT. Enlisting guitarist Jeff Parker to expand their deft musicianship, as well as their roots to Chicago’s sprawling avant-garde scene, Tortoise returned with an effort brimming with fits of post-modern jazz, dub-informed rock and only slight nods to the German experimental genre Krautrock and electronic textures of their sophomore outing, Millions Now Living Will Never Die.

  3. Nick Drake - Pink Moon

    In his brief career, English troubadour Nick Drake never recorded anything close to a summertime album — not by a long shot. However, Five Leaves Left more accurately seems to represent the brisk chill and colorful atmosphere of Autumn (which could be similarly said of 1970’s Bryter Layter), while Pink Moon, stripped to the stark production of just Drake’s voice and gentle acoustic guitar, is as wintry and melancholy as they come. “Things Behind the Sun” is the sort of song that’s best heard with only the light of flickering candles. And “Know” and “Parasite” each have an austere bareness about them, as if to mirror trees stripped of their leaves. It’s an achingly beautiful album, and one that ends entirely too soon, but its soft tones and soothing sound make it a source of comfort in the harshest of weather, even if its barely there arrangements have more than a little bit of frost on the edges

  4. The Cure - Faith

    Goth-rock and winter go hand in hand, since sunlight is the last thing you’d want cutting through your morose exterior (though, if you want a surreal clash of cultures, check out Bats Day at Disneyland). So, it’s no surprise that The Cure has a few albums in their fairly broad discography that sound best when there’s a chill in the air. Yet the chilliest by far is their third album, Faith. Entirely gray on its strange, abstract exterior, Faith is also pretty dark and bleak on the interior as well — there’s a song titled “All Cats Are Grey,” for pete’s sake! Still, there’s something romantic about The Cure’s eerie early post-punk days, which comes in many varieties, from the haunting dirge of “The Holy Hour” to the more rollicking rockers like “Primary” or “Doubt.” But by and large this is an album of slow movement and darkened hues. It’s brisk post-punk minimalism with an affectingly bleak core

  5. Drexciya - Grava 4

    Grava 4 is an album of stark, brooding introspection, alternately expansive and oblique. It sees Drexciya turning their attention towards the cosmos, as song titles shifted from aquatic themes to “700 Million Light Years From Earth,” “Drexciyan Star Chamber,” and “Astronomical Guidepost.” A web of constellations was drawn on the cover.

  6. Radiohead - Kid A

    Perhaps this is a case of reading too much into the giant, snow-capped cgi mountains on the cover of Radiohead’s Kid A, or perhaps it’s the fact that the winter of my freshman year of college, I listened to Kid A pretty damn regularly. Or perhaps it’s just that Kid A is so atmospheric and isolated, paranoid and eerie, there’s just no untangling it from winter at its harshest. Admittedly, having lived in Southern California my whole life, the harshness was never actually there. But Kid A always seemed to evoke it, whether through the bizarre robotic twinkles of the title track, the hypnotic awakening of mesmerizing opening song “Everything In Its Right Place,” or the weeping progression of waltzing ballad “How to Disappear Completely.” At times, playing Kid A felt as if a snowfall was always imminent, even when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which is saying a lot. Such is Radiohead’s uniquely chilling talent.

  7. Frank Sinatra - Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely

    This is just as much a night album as a winter album. Still, these sad, lonesome numbers sound perfect in particular on the cold melancholy of a winter evening in. They bring to mind a smoky, empty bar in the early hours, with a fire crackling in the corner and a large glass of whisky in your hand.

  8. Voices From The Lake Feat. Donato Dozzy & Neel (2) - Voices From The Lake

    Rhythmic, moody, minimal and echoey, framed by natural noise, this even sounds like a bleak forest in wintertime. Ambient techno at its deepest and most subtle.

  9. Wintersleep - Welcome To The Night Sky

    Welcome to the Night Sky, Wintersleep's third album, is largely composed of straightforward yet emotional rock comparable to Band of Horses and early R.E.M., particularly on songs like "Astronaut", where singer Paul Murphy's voice soars triumphantly over a jangle of guitars with reassuringly familiar yet effective melodies. Since most of the tracks are between two and four minutes, there is little time for meandering, and Wintersleep have a tendency to cut straight for the gold with infectious guitar lines and persuasive, high-energy choruses. The band's self-control usually works in their favor, however, and they are able to translate grand ideas in a relatively short amount of time so the songs communicate successfully without ever having the opportunity to become exhausting. And although Wintersleep may stick to a fairly loose formula, they also color their music with impressive motifs. The album's organ-driven centerpiece, "Weighty Ghost", sounds like it's channelling Paul Simon with cleverly layered group backing vocals and subtle handclaps that end up making the song more memorable and the sound fully encompassing. Both "Dead Letter and the Infinite Yes" and "Murderer" provide a platform for Murphy's darker musings on mental illness, supported by guitars that twist and swell beneath like they're trying to fight their way out of an unlit maze.

  10. Billie Holiday With Ray Ellis And His Orchestra - Lady In Satin

    This was Billie Holiday's penultimate album, recorded when her body was telling her enough was enough. During the sessions with arranger Ray Ellis she was drinking vodka neat, as if it were tap water. Despite her ravaged voice (the sweetness had long gone), she was still an incredible singer. The feeling and tension she manages to put into almost every track set this album as one of her finest achievements. "You've Changed" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well" are high art performances from the singer who saw life from the bottom up.

  11. Joy Division - Closer

    If Unknown Pleasures was Joy Division at their most obsessively, carefully focused, ten songs yet of a piece, Closer was the sprawl, the chaotic explosion that went every direction at once. Who knows what the next path would have been had Ian Curtis not chosen his end? But steer away from the rereading of his every lyric after that date; treat Closer as what everyone else thought it was at first -- simply the next album -- and Joy Division's power just seems to have grown. Joy Division were at the height of their powers on Closer, equaling and arguably bettering the astonishing Unknown Pleasures, that's how accomplished the four members were. Rock, however defined, rarely seems and sounds so important, so vital, and so impossible to resist or ignore as here.

  12. Burial - Untrue

    'Untrue' is his best album, this is his coldest. Abrasive, alienated 2-step frames his trademark melancholy. There is none of the lush, ghostly beauty of his sophomore effort; this is simply the hard edged, cold sound of a bleak London estate in winter, all depravation, loneliness and desperation.

  13. Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out

    Yo La Tengo have released enough albums, and for that matter enough different albums, to have every month of the year covered with a continuous but changing mood. You might enjoy Summer Sun in August, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One in November, and their 2000 slowcore masterpiece, …And Then Nothing Turns Itself Inside Out in January. It’s a long, expansive album, and for that matter a highly personal one. Ira Kaplan softly delves into grown-up matters of grown-up relationships with a youthfully innocent gaze on “Our Way To Fall.” And yet there’s a fair share of elegant heartbreak as well, in “Tears Are In Your Eyes.” It’s the band’s prettiest album, a wonderful companion to the slow drift of snowflakes.

  14. Björk - Homogenic

    When Björk began her solo career after splitting with the Sugarcubes (not to be mistaken for the album she released when she was just a wee lass or her album of jazz standards) she arrived with a vibrant and bouncy collection of club pop that started her on an experimental and artful path. But it also only hinted at the broad orchestral electronic pop sounds she would ultimately come to embrace. I’ve always associated Björk’s music with winter, but I probably need to clarify that statement a bit. It’s essentially from Homogenic on that is truly the case. With Vespertine, Biophilia and Medulla, she certainly tapped into an alluring, abstract chill. Homogenic, however, is the one most connected to winter in my mind, an album that finds its soul both in intimate, atmospheric spaces (“Unravel”) and in soaring pieces of mesmerizing ambition (“Bachelorette”). Maybe it’s second nature to the Icelandic (see also: Sigur Rós), but Björk has a particular knack for making winter soundtracks

  15. Aphex Twin - Syro

    Low on frenetics, Syro is anchored by rotund and agile basslines that zip and glide, and it's decked in accents and melodies that are lively even at their most distressed. It also flows easily, a notion epitomized by the sequencing of "XMAS_EVET10 [Thanaton3 Mix]" and "Produk 29," where a mesmerizing combination of snaking low-end synthesizers (10:31, not 12:24 in length) is trailed by an avant-rap body mover that bears some resemblance to Dabrye's lithe and sprightly early releases. Components of certain tracks, like the squiggled Mr. Fingers spin-cycle bassline in "4 bit 9d api+e+6" and scrambled rhythms of "CIRCLONT6A [Syrobonkus Mix]," make the album seem like a bright progression from the Analord releases.

  16. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds* - No More Shall We Part

    Nick Cave has made better, louder and scarier albums than 2001's uncharacteristically dignified No More Shall We Part. But he has never made an album that so well captures the dreariness of a long winter (that's a compliment, Nick). No More Shall We Part remains slow and austere throughout its 68 minutes. The songs are expansive and full of longing, led by piano, wailing violin and Cave himself singing in an unusually high register. Canadian sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle chime in on backing vocals, like a mournful pair of Christmas carolers. As far as explicit wintry references go, the title track evokes "the depths of winter," "Love Letter" fights for love as a "wicked wind whips up the hill" and "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow" is an essential blizzard anthem: "It's too quiet in here / And I'm beginning to freeze / I've got icicles hanging from my knees!"

  17. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

    Like any good winter album, For Emma, Forever Ago is a little dark and a little mournful and moodily low-fi, but it's one of the best winter albums because of the way that Justin Vernon makes desolation seem like an attractive prospect: Halfway through this record, I find I generally don’t care if the spring ever comes. Bon Iver’s name is a take on the French for “good winter,” and you can hear the snowy Wisconsin house in the woods where Vernon recorded in every single bar of this album. Who among us hasn't imagined listening to "Flume" or "For Emma" while driving through snowy backwoods at night, perhaps toward a warm but lonely cabin that smelled of wool and firewood? You don't have to answer right now. And though Vernon seemed to get spooked by his own hype (guest starring on a Kanye record will do that), For Emma is still pure as the driven snow seven years after its release—a modern masterpiece that could give you a chill in July

  18. Porter Ricks - Biokinetics

    A fug of harsh fuzz courses through this record, imbuing it with a striking intensity. But it’s fair from just harsh noise: The intricacy of the music is incredible, it simultaneously washes over you like a tidal wave and holds you in an intimate stranglehold.

  19. The Sisters Of Mercy - Some Girls Wander By Mistake

    For over a decade, the early singles of Andrew Eldritch's goth crew, the Sisters of Mercy, existed only in a limited-edition vinyl format. They also went for fairly high prices, something that led to extensive bootlegging. Thankfully, in 1992 head honcho Eldritch decided to release all of the Sisters' pre-major-label material on a single compilation CD. He was rewarded with a U.K. number one album, and the opportunity to buy himself a new Porsche. The title comes from a Leonard Cohen song, "Teachers," which was the first song performed by the fledgling Sisters. All five early singles/EPs are here, from 1980's "The Damage Done" to 1983's "Temple of Love." The material is not presented chronologically, which is fine since the band's first two singles are the weakest on the album. "The Damage Done" might command a high price on vinyl but isn't a particularly good song, and the 30-second B-side "Home of the Hit-Men" is entirely pointless. Follow-up single "Body Electric" is better, featuring the classic punk workout "Adrenochrome," but it wasn't until 1982's "Alice" that the band hit its stride. The title track is an instant classic, while "Floorshow" became a live show staple. The Reptile House EP, featuring tracks five to ten on the CD, saw the Sisters take a turn into more overtly dark territory, featuring some of their bleakest and most anguished work. Their final indie release, "Temple of Love," continued this trend, with Eldritch turning in an impressive vocal performance. The cover of "Gimme Shelter" doesn't entirely work, but it's an interesting glimpse into the band's roots. Some Girls Wander By Mistake captures the Sisters of Mercy at their most ferocious and angry, in the years before the band became weighed down by over-produced synth-based efforts. As a look at the formative years of a still-popular band, it's great, but as a reminder of the punk roots of the goth movement, it's priceless

  20. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

    Fleet Foxes is a great winter album if only for the reason that practically every song has some kind of appearance of a little winter creature, if meadowlarks and mountain peasants are really winter creatures—in my mind they are. This is probably because the album constantly calls to mind images of wintry isolation and loneliness: Robin Pecknold seems to be a lonely traveler going through each of the songs’ worlds, focused more on nature and the introspection of his own existence that the boundless world around him causes him to contemplate than any interpersonal relationships he might have. What makes Fleet Foxes such a great record is that it’s a meditative look at nature and Pecknold’s relationship to it, but songs like “White Winter Hymnal” explore how that relationship actually effects his interactions with those around him. He seems obviously lost in the woods, on the outside of the “pack” that he follows; it’s a terrific examination of the manifestations that loneliness might take when projected into society at large.