Boxing Day is a bit of a non-starter. Most people are still recovering from the excesses of the past few days and there’s nothing to look forward to until New Year. Rather than forcing yourselves outdoors, stay in and blow away the cobwebs by immersing yourselves in the aural equivalent of a wintry walk. There’s so much more to the sound of winter than Christmas songs, we’ve put together a playlist featuring ten of the best:
I’ve got my love to keep me warm – Billie Holliday
Definitely start with this one. Billie at her peak, accompanied with a swing by her orchestra, effortlessly delivers this Irving Berlin standard. With characteristic elegance she assures you that it doesn’t matter how foul the weather is as long you have someone warm to snuggle up to. There’s an exemplary version on Verve’s Complete Billie Holiday collection that puts you in the middle of a snowy New York Christmas like nothing else.
Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
The winter song to rule them all. Flawless harmonies and lush arrangements accompany a beautiful spare piece of poetry. Only two and a half minutes in length, this starts with a simple vocal round and builds up to a spine-tingling melody filled with the sense of adventure and darkness. A wondrous masterpiece.
Sven – y – Englar – Sigur Ròs
The hugely accomplished Sigur Ròs have never bettered this track in our opinion. Dense atmospherics swirl around Jonsi’s falsetto, conjuring images of epic glacial landscapes. It’s difficult to imagine this music originating anywhere but Iceland and listening to it being played loudly through a good pair of speakers puts you in the middle of the mix. The track to choose when you’re forced to take part in karaoke at a NYE party.
Winter now – Broadcast
This is a lovely thing. Shimmering synths and 60s girl group-style backing vocals bring a dash of Joe Meek in a swirling electronic snowstorm. Studio perfectionists Broadcast mixed samples and analogue-synth sounds to give warmth and texture to their space-pop collages. Singer-songwriter Trish Keenan sings of her love being there “in the deepest snow” while her heart “waits in winter.” Broadcast only recorded three albums before Trish died in 2011, too young, which makes this track all the more poignant.
Fifteen feet of pure white snow – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Seventeen years on from the debut Bad Seeds album, Nick Cave delivered this doomy blues elegy on the perils of forgetting to put on mittens. He may well be referring to a different kind of snow but lyrics such as: “It’s too quiet in here and I’m beginning to freeze / I’ve got icicles hanging from my knees” could only be delivered by Cave. The video is a joy with a choreographed routine featuring Jarvis Cocker and a well-refreshed Jason Donovan amongst others. At this point, it’s definitely time to open a new bottle of Port.
Dark was the night, cold was the ground – Blind Willie Jefferson
Chosen as one of the sonic representations of Earth that was sent on the Voyager probe to greet other life forms of the universe, this sits alongside birdsong and the sound of laughter. A stark, haunting, wordless tune that reminds us there are always people less fortunate than ourselves. American culturist Carl Sagan chose the track because “Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.” A recording unlike any other.
Saint Saëns – Aquarium
Part of Saint-Saëns’ Carnival Of The Animals suite, Aquarium features pianos and glass harmonicas intended to conjure up a dimly-lit underwater world, but the glissando runs on the keyboards just as easily evoke swirling ice-skaters in the gleaming snow. There are numerous recordings of this charming composition but the one on Chandos is the best for just closing your eyes and immersing yourself in the haunting music.
Stopping by the woods on a wintry evening – Robert Frost
An oddity this, but no less lovely for that. Horse’s hooves, harness bells and deep crunching footsteps accompany the soundscape around Robert Frost’s resonant reading of his poem. Deceptively simple, the contemplative lines will resonate long after you’ve finished listening. We recommend setting aside four minutes, every evening, to listen to this with your eyes closed in the run up to the new year. Listen here.
In the cold, cold night – White Stripes
Sounding like a party you’re not invited to, Meg’s frosty, clipped vocals take centre-stage with a feline slink as she sings with enviable insouciance: “You make me feel a little older/ Like a full grown woman might”. A flawless track that sums up what was so great about The White Stripes: pared-back blues, a simple vocal and loads of attitude. Very good for singing along to. Loudly.
Walk out to winter (extended) – Aztec camera
Jangle pop at its finest – eat your heart out Johnny Marr. This infectious track from Aztec Camera’s pop classic debut, High Land, Hard Rain still manages to sound fresh over thirty years on, 80’s production not with-standing. It’s both carefree and melancholy, reminiscent of staying up to early hours talking of love and politics. Perfect for the party season. If you’re not dancing by now, you should be.