Monday, January 20, 2014

Songs for a Snowfall

We New Jerseyans and New Yorkers might get a foot of snow tomorrow, so what better time for a wintry playlist?  Let these excellent tunes accompany your shovelling, snowball fights, and/or (spiked?) hot chocolate drinking.  The snowy soundscapes presented here range sonically and emotionally, capturing the many paradoxes--stillness and movement, warmth and frigidity, renewal and death, love and despair, youth and experience--that winter embodies.  Enjoy, and stay warm!

1. Bon Iver - "Blood Bank." A song about falling in love in winter: And the snow started falling; we were stuck out in your car.  You were rubbing both my hands, chewing on a candy bar.

2. Bright Eyes - "Gold Mine Gutted." Beginning as a love story, this song ends by describing a lover's possibly fatal drug addiction: Only smoke came out our mouths on all those hooded-sweatshirt walks. ... All those white lines that sped us up; we hurry to our death.  Well, I lagged behind, so you got ahead.

3. Kanye West - "Street Lights." Whereas the other two of Kanye's "lights" songs ("All of the Lights," "Flashing Lights") are celebrations of his fame and success, "Street Lights" captures an isolated and despondent West, who turns a cab ride (in what feels to me like a snowy New York) into an existential journey: I know my destination, but I'm just not there.

4. LCD Soundsystem - "Someone Great." The song's cold, brooding, mechanical sounds epitomize not only LCD's album title, Sound of Silver, but also the numbness one feels after losing "someone great": There shouldn't be this ring of silence, but what are the options when someone great is gone?

5. Explosions in the Sky - "Snow and Lights." Moving from heavy snowstorms to light flurries back to a climactic blizzard, "Snow and Lights" lives up to evocative its title without saying a word.

6. Vampire Weekend - "Step."  (See the post below): They didn't know how to dress for the weather.  I can still see them there huddle on Astor: snow falling slow to the sound of the master.

7. Minus the Bear - "Hooray."  Describing a snowball fight and "warming on alcohol" in bars, "Hooray" celebrates youth--or acting youthfully--and the weather that brings out our joyful qualities: It's cold, and snow's actually on the ground of this no-snow town.  And instead of cars, streets [are] trafficking in sleds.  Men become boys again.

8. Crystal Castles (feat. Robert Smith) - "Not In Love."  Synths are ideal for capturing frigid sounds, but the sleety waves of synthesizers here are especially effective--and appropriate for Smith's unfeeling exclamation, "I'm not in love." 'Cause it's cold outside; when you coming home?  'Cause it's hot inside; isn't that enough?

9. Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)."  The imaginative opening lines from Arcade Fire's debut remain among the group's best poetry: And if the snow buries my neighborhood ... Climb out the chimney and meet me in the middle of the town.  And since there's no one else around, we let our hair grown long and forget all we used to know.  Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow.

10. The XX - "Shelter."  "Shelter" reminds me of watching snow fall from behind a pane of glass: the separation between coldness and warmth is thin.  This song's warm guitars and Croft's shaking, almost insecure voice shatter that barrier, allowing these conflicting feelings to coexist in an unsettling love song: I find shelter in this way: undercover, hideaway.

11. Bright Eyes - "Something Vague."  Conor Oberst epitomized so many of my adolescent winters that he gets to make two appearances here.  On what may be his angstiest, but also one of his finest, albums, a young Oberst quivers as he paints a sad portrait of an alcoholic: You see your breath in the air as you climb up the stairs to the coffin you call your apartment. And you sink in your chair, brushing snow from you hair, and drink the cold away.  And you're not really sure what you're doing this for, but you need something to fill up the days.

12. The Good Life - "A Golden Exit." The final song from The Good Life's Novena on a Nocturn represents both bitter ends (of relationships, even of life) and cathartic renewals: I can feel the chill in the air between us.  I can feel a winter coming; we're frozen in our stares.  ... I woke up this morning to the silence of falling snow.  These graces of beauty have left me so cold.

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