It’s mid-January. The holidays are over, spring is still a ways away, and the word ‘summer’ isn’t even in your vocabulary. There isn’t enough snow on the ground to make a day out of it, and it’s far too bitter and cold to go for a casual walk. The sun is nowhere to be found.
1. My Arms Were Always Around You – Peter Bradley Adams (A Face Like Mine, 2017)
“Your pretty little wings/they must be getting tired/trying to keep your feet/up off the ground”
I abused the play button on Peter Bradley Adams’ 2008 album Leavetaking for months before letting it fall to the wayside in favor of other genres. This year, when Adams released A Face Like Mine, I was instantly captivated again. ‘My Arms Were Always Around You’ grabbed my attention right away, for many of the same reasons Leavetaking grabbed it years earlier. The warm, intricate layers of acoustic guitars, the subtle but driving percussion, and Adams’ simple but sentimental lyrics and melodies combine to form a beautiful bouquet of alternative folk and pop sounds. It’s a love song, so I recommend putting this on with a significant other and a big mug of hot chocolate.
“No map can direct how to ever make it home/we’re alone, we’re alone, we’re alone”
William Fitzsimmons is a name I’ve heard in interviews and seen floating around folk playlists for years. I’d never checked out his music until last year when I finally broke down and got Spotify Premium (thanks, Spotify). It’s easy to focus on acoustic guitar when listening to a folk song, but it’s what falls behind the acoustic guitar and vocals in some of Fitzsimmons’ songs that speaks volumes. To me, this is the case in I Don’t Feel It Anymore, as the addition of what sounds like a Fender Rhodes keyboard and a mandolin in the background give this song much more dimension than most. It’s thought-provoking, winter-friendly, and certainly worthy of a sing-along (the outro of ‘oh, take it all away’ makes this work). It’d be easy to feel warm just by looking at Fitzsimmons’ gargantuan beard, but his music will provide warmth for the whole room.
3. Come All You Weary – Thrice (The Alchemy Index Vol IV: Earth, 2008)
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is kind/I’ll take yours upon me, if you can take mine”
There are multiple ways one could look at this song as being appropriate for wintertime listening. The lyrics, if taken literally, are made up of mostly Biblical references. “Lay down your burdens/find rest for your souls”, “Lend me your ears and we’ll break bread and eat” – when you pick the lyrics out it becomes pretty obvious that the song was influenced by singer Dustin Kensrue’s religious beliefs. If worship is a big part of your holiday, this song will fit right at home as a casual after-dinner listen. But even if you aren’t big on the religious side of things during the winter months, Come All You Weary can still serve as a reminder to be kind and empathetic toward others, in the hopes that one day, when you’re in trouble, that kindness will be reciprocated. Perhaps to some, the entity of ‘God’ is a universal binding agent inside all of us that keeps us connected, providing us the ability to be kind to one another. We just need to exercise it. And beyond the depth of all of that, the song is a blues and folk influenced rocker, high in spirit and enthusiasm. Winter is when you need that warmth and enthusiasm the most.
The English band 65daysofstatic released their No Man’s Sky album as an accompaniment to the space exploration video game of the same name, but the music stands on its own as an epic and diverse soundscape of work. ‘Asimov’ is a great song for winter for opposite reasons that the first three items on this list: instead of keeping you warm and fuzzy, it makes you feel sober, strong, and cold. But it’s bracing and empowering. Instead of keeping you company, it reminds you how alone you are. And that can be a truly amazing thing. Maybe you should step outside after all – there’s a giant, desolate, beautiful, freezing cold world out there for you to explore. Maybe the cold and open winter world outside your window is what’ll keep you warm after all.
Ray Lamontagne is one of our generation’s best storytellers. In writing this list, I think one of the things many of us want from music is to be taken away to another place. I imagine many of us definitely want to be taken away to another place when it’s -10 degrees outside and we can’t remember what leaves look like. It’s these types of situations where storytelling in music shines, and thus, where Ray Lamontagne thrives. Even if you can’t relate to Lamontagne’s tale of love lost, you can find solace and charm in listening to the story, and for a moment, you forget just how cold and lonely winter can be. The production lends an intimate mood to the song – although there’s a slight reverb on Ray’s vocals, it still seems like it’s a concert between just you and him. The slight violin in the background adds another somber layer, and in those four minutes nothing else matters. The story of Jolene is the most important thing. Who cares about the weather?
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