You know those albums that are just perfect for those warm summer days? Like Bob Marley’s Legend or Sublime’s self-titled masterpiece? They make you feel like laying in the grass with your headphones on or lazily steering a pontoon boat around a calm lake, beer in hand. But what about winter? What do you listen to when it’s 20-below and the thought of going outside literally sends chills down your spine?
Winter is tough around these parts. I go through stages, not unlike the five stages of loss and grief; denial (it won’t be as bad as last year), anger (this sucks), bargaining (if I get through this winter, I’ll plan a vacation next year), depression (I haven’t seen the sun in three weeks), and acceptance (I’m locked in – might as well get used to it). I’ve never become accustomed to winter. I’m tired of it usually right after Christmas. And without a good stock of music, I’d never make it to spring.
So, I thought I’d share my top 10 winter albums – selections that help me cope with the worst Chicago winters. They reflect the stages of loss and grief – some help me get my anger out, while others give me hope for sunnier days. They are all from very talented artists, new and old.
Good luck this season, I hope this helps.
Did we miss your favorite winter album? Leave a comment and help all Sound Citizens get through the doldrums.
10. The Subways, Young for Eternity.
The Subways are a UK product and when they recorded this album they were raw – like the worst winters. It’s full of power and anger, with a punk/power-pop twist. The songs are short (how I like my winters) but furious. This album fits an angry round peg into a square hole.
9. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights.
Interpol has a consistent flow in just about all of their songs. That’s what I like about them and that’s exactly what I need during weeks of uninterrupted, brutal cold. Pretentious, maybe, but this album makes me want to put my head down and just keep trudging forward.
8. Metallica, The Black Album.
I think the fact that I always seem to catch Metallica during cold months has something to do with this. The Black Album is dark, but it also gives a “me against the world” feeling, perfect for gearing up to go scrape an inch of ice off your windshield. And if you’re in the acceptance stage of winter, you can’t go wrong with “Sad but True.”
7. Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison.
Maybe I think of this as a winter album because prison is a cold, dark and dreary place. But there is hope in this album. As the album progresses you can almost feel a burden being lifted from the shoulders of hopeless prisoners, even if just for a short time. Kind of like an unusually warm day in early March.
6. Smashing Pumpkins, Pisces Iscariot.
This collection of B-sides and demos is easily one of the Pumpkins’ most overlooked albums. It also fits in nicely with the winter theme, especially Billy Corgan’s cover of “Landslide.” Corgan is all too familiar with Chicago winters and it shows in this album. It’s loaded with angst and sadness, and speckled with hope. The Pumpkins’ Ava Adore could easily be on this list too.
5. Portishead, Dummy.
I don’t know much about Portishead. But I do know that Dummy can knock you out if you listen long enough. It’s not boring; it’s just dark, twisted and very groovy. If you want to zone out and forget about the blizzard outside, put this one on; turn down the lights and pour a stiff drink.
4. Cat Power, The Greatest.
The story of Cat Power (Chan Marshall) is one of redemption, so far. She’s the daughter of musicians, had a nomadic childhood, fell into deep depression and alcoholism and her tours suffered. But her gifts prevailed. Through determination and perseverance, Marshall rose from the cold. The Greatest encompasses both the struggle and revival of Cat Power.
3. Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs.
It goes without saying that Death Cab has a firm grip on melancholy. Just about every one of their albums makes me think of cold, dark winters – especially Narrow Stairs. But for some reason it’s a feeling of warmth in an otherwise cold place. Death Cab is interesting in that the songs can be depressing yet oddly transcending, taking you wherever you want to go.
2. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
Polly Jean’s haunting and powerful voice, direct lyrics and straightforward rock riffs make her a classic. But its this album’s gritty feel mixed with PJ’s trademark elegance that makes it so appropriate for winter. It’s like a miserably cold day with a delicate snowfall. Rolling Stone called this album the best of her career. She toured through Chicago on this album on September 13, 2001 – two days after the terror in New York. It remains the most powerful and emotional concert I’ve ever seen. Along with the video below, check out “The Mess We’re In,” featuring Thom Yorke on vocals.
1. Morphine, Cure for Pain.
The title of this album and the band itself are certainly fitting, and so is its mood. Listen to this album loud and it will literally reverberate in your body. It’s the good kind of shivers. Cure for Pain is dark, but remarkably warm.