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01.30.13 My Top Ten Winter Albums

My Top Ten Winter Albums

[as originally posted at ]rWinter in the Twin Cities is LONG. It is COLD. The incessantness of it has a way of mentally rherding you into strange corners of your psyche as the months drag on. In other words, it rprovides a great atmosphere in which to hole up and immerse yourself in music that rsympathizes one way or another. rHere then are the ten albums that, for me, do the best job of filling that arctic void. In piecing rtogether this list I noticed an emergence (if not a saturation) of two or three particular r"genres". Being one for variety I was initially discouraged by this, but as with the season ritself I came to embrace it. On that note of ambiguity, I will let the list speak for itself.
Black Holes and Revelations

This album sounds like those really long winter nights, where the sky is crystal
clear and the frigid air somehow makes the stars look much brighter than usual.
The spacious mix and glossy production allow plenty of room for the synths and
guitars to swirl and shine their way through the soundscape, and for Matt Bellamy
to fill in the gaps with his airy falsetto vocals. Black Holes manages to sound
simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic, a vibe which of course culminates in the
spaghetti western set in space that is Knights of Cydonia.

At its core Souvlaki is a subdued, dreamy pop album. What makes it great,
specifically during the winter, is that it exists far beneath the surface of a sea of
fuzz. The songs unfold like dreams, flourishing with surreal ambiance that rises
and falls as the deeply delayed guitars bounce through the haze and Rachel
Goswell's trance-like vocals coo and purr along with the beautifully overbearing
8Electric Wizard

Check your suspension before picking up Dopethrone, because this thing is HEAVY.
The songs lurch forward at an impossibly slow pace, and the guitars and bass are
fuzzed out and downtuned to the point that they engulf the entire mix in a wall of
rumbling distortion so thick that it can very well pummel you (and your sound
system) into submission. What makes it a great winter album though is the
desperation of Justin Oborn's vocals as he attempts to fight his way through the
devastating white noise. You can understand barely a handful of words on the
whole record, but it has a way of articulating the cabin fever that tends to set in
around this time.
7Bruce Springsteen

Recorded by himself in his basement on a four-track, Springsteen's bare-bones
Nebraska has a haunting beauty to it similar to the skeleton of a leafless tree.
Unlike many albums on this list, there is nothing but dark, empty void to serve as
the backdrop as Bruce laments and howls brutally depressing tales of desperation
and alienation. Originally intended as a rough demo, the atmosphere is incredibly
eerie, with an unrelenting sense of oppression.
6Brand New
Deja Entendu

This album is best listened to while sitting in a silent, dimly lit room late at night,
long after the rest of the world has turned in, and withdrawing dangerously deep
into your thoughts. The album has a strong manic-depressive feel, as its mood is
of increasingly aggressive angst and urgency, until it all becomes too much and
collapses into a moment of tense catharsis, only to start all over again.
5Galaxie 500
On Fire

The lyrical imagery of Snowstorm makes this an easy pick, but the album as a
whole is the point where dreamy pop meets the surreal haze of shoegaze, and then
makes a crash landing into the crescendo-laden orchestration of post-rock.
4 Sigur Ros

Hailing from Iceland, it is no surprise that Sigur R?s knows as well as anyone how
to tap into the spirit of the fourth season. ?g?tis Byrjun creates a "wall of sound"
type of delivery with flowing background ambiance, yet the whole album still feels
incredibly ethereal and floaty. There is a particular alien serenity to it, as if the
ebbs and flows are capable of carrying you straight up to the clouds, high above a
foreign Alpine landscape. The vocals, all sung in Icelandic, contribute a great deal
to this vibe, and they serve as another instrument and another texture to the sonic
The Mantle

This album is Frankenstein's Monster of music. Never before and never since has
fireside acoustic strumming meshed so well with smoldering electric guitars,
thunderous percussion, and despair-filled black metal vocals. Not unlike the beast
it is reminiscent of, the whole thing is shrouded in a deep coat of mystery, invoking
images of hooded figures wandering the tundra and ascending snow covered
mountain faces in search of something beyond comprehension. Isolation is a
common theme among many of the albums on this list, but during the journey The
Mantle takes you on you begin to embrace that isolation. The atmosphere and
delivery seem to put you into the shoes (er?hooves?) of the elk displayed on the
cover; somehow existing as one with the unrelenting wilderness.
Kid A

From the warm yet ominous opening chords of the rhodes keyboard to the final
minutes of deafening silence, no album better conveys the digital emptiness of the
looming electronic age. Released at the turn of the millennium, Kid A uses eerie,
disembodied vocals and layered textures of stuttering trip-hop beats to illustrate a
vast, lonely, cold, alien future. The album is at its best during the dissociative
ambiance of the middle section, which puts you into a warped sense of security
before dropping you headfirst into the overwhelming hopelessness of Idiotique.
1Explosions in the Sky
The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place

Your ReasonThis is a great record during any time of the year, but it seems to take
on a whole new dynamic among the snow and ice and subzero temperatures. The
crystal clear guitars shimmer like ice above the sparse compositions, with
individual notes ringing out like flakes of snow. On a list filled with depression,
desperation, and alienation it seems only right for #1 to be the one that is capable
of putting it all back into perspective. It is an experience akin to watching sun rays
reflect off of a desolate snow covered field, illuminating the beauty of what at first
may seem like a cold, dead place.
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