closer than that

In spite of having around four solid contenders for the title of “Favorite Winter Album”, I’ve never manged to put together a winter playlist that I can be happy with. This might have something to do with what I look for in winter music. Winter is my season for introspection, so my musical choices incline to the meditative. For those purposes, the ebb of a album-length composition works best: a well-sequenced set of songs creates a mood, and with it a space for turning inward; the rough transitions of a playlist can ruin such an effect. Pacing the uptempo and downtempo songs raises similar issues.

And then there’s another trick that seems to accompany the seasonal flavor. My favorite winter songs tend to either be spare and intimate or indulgently lush. I’m not sure why both minimal and highly orchestral music push me to insularity, but that’s the result. A lot of the albums that I rotate heavily at this time of the year (Vespertine, Agaetis Byrjun) move between the two modes.

So on the one hand you have the delicate, unadorned songs – Low is exemplary here – where silence asserts itself into the track. Then there are the songs that heap on noise in the form of bells, strings, synths, and keys,  aggressively pushing out all sound that doesn’t fit into the creator’s sonic field. Mercury Rev and Dungen do this in one way, with intricate, shifting melodies; M83 and Sigur Ros do it in another, using repetition and volume to blizzard-like effect. These are the approaches are that reviewers like to describe as “soundscapes” –  they imply a bounded space.  Even the colder, more clinical tracks have a way of encompassing the listener, dragging them away from their surroundings, beckoning them to wander and get lost in the snow.

Within those sonic environs, the music’s emotional content trends toward the evocative rather than the directly expressive. The songs with lyrics favor parable simplicity. They invite reflection instead of pushing an emotional agenda. Mostly, this is music for cold nights.

1. Low – “Lazer Beam”
2. The Field  – “Silent”
3. Sigur Ros  – “Sven-G-Englar”
4. Explosions in the Sky  – “Glittering Blackness”
5. The Appleseed Cast – “February”
6. M83 – “In the Cold I’m Standing”
7. Arcade Fire – “Un Anee Sans Lumiere”
8. Belle & Sebastian – “The Fox in the Snow”
9. Mercury Rev – “Tonite it Shows”
10. Dungen – “Det Tu Tanker Idag Ar Du Imar”
11. A Silver Mt. Zion – “Stumble then Rise on Some Awkward Morning”
12. Bjork – “Harm of Will”

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~ by staticandme on January 18, 2009.

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