It’s still freezing. It’s been cold for a long time, and it’s probably going to continue to be cold for a long time. So if you’re going to hunker down and survive the winter, you need this definitive list of the best winter albums around.
What counts as a winter album? In some ways, you just know one when you hear it. An album comes on that perfectly fits the season, and the beat syncs up with your shivering. Winter albums are, well, cold. They’re sad, but dignified. Beautiful, even. They’re not too upbeat; warming you up with a blanket and a cup of tea rather than a jog around the block. These are the albums to keep you comfortable as the snow comes down outside.
1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Radiohead’s orchestral ninth album is one largely characterised by loss. Long-time producer Nigel Godrich lost his father during the album’s recording, and lead singer Thom Yorke had announced his separation from his wife, which influenced much of the songwriting on the album. Like many songs on here, the album’s emotional climax, True Love Waits, was written much earlier in the band’s career. It became an elusive gem, only ever being played live throughout the years as the band tried unsuccessfully to produce a definitive recorded version. And yet, in the face of heartbreak, this song about true love finally found its way onto a Radiohead album. As the artwork suggests, this beautifully emotional album evokes images of a serene frozen landscape. Incredible, stunning, yet harsh, almost uninhabitable.
2. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up (2017)
Compared with most of Fleet Foxes’ other work, their 2017 comeback album takes a while to get in to. It seems distant, even confusing at first. There are the parts that immediately grab you, as in album opener ‘I Am All That I Need…’ and lead single ‘Third of May’, but these are just fragments of complex songs that go through different stages, playing out in different acts like a Shakespearean tragedy. It is only when you let go of the old, upbeat Fleet Foxes of ‘Ragged Wood’ and embrace all the different elements of Crack-Up that it shows its true majesty. It’s a complex tapestry of emotion that places you at the edge of a cliff, getting battered by freezing winds, while it tells you something you already knew: there’s nothing else quite like Fleet Foxes.
3. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Carrie & Lowell sounds bare and simple, but don’t let that fool you. These eleven tracks contain some of the most poignantly beautiful folk songs ever written. Lyrically, this album is Stevens’ attempt to process the death of his estranged mother. He lays his soul bare, and in the process creates some of the most intensely meaningful songs about life and death ever written. It’s the perfect winter album not just because of the sparse atmosphere that conjures up images of snow-covered wilderness, but because it captures a mood so well that it seems like the only right choice when cold weather hits. It’s hard to imagine listening to Carrie & Lowell in the middle of summer, just as it’s hard to imagine not listening to it in winter.
4. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (1975)
There isn’t much to say about Blood On The Tracks that hasn’t already been said. It’s the kind of album you could never get sick of, because it will never stop being good. Tangled Up In Blue remains a masterpiece of human creativity, and so on, you get the point. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that when this album came out, Bob Dylan had gone out of fashion. Even this album, despite being seen as one of Dylan’s best, was met with mixed reviews when it came out. The thing about Blood On The Tracks is that it doesn’t just grow on you the way most albums do. Over time, you get to know it better as if it’s a friend, and eventually it will be there to comfort you when you need it most.
5. The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
The Postal Service is the combined effort of Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and electronic artist Jimmy Tamborello, and earned its name because the two would work on the songs by sending them back and forth in the mail. The glittering beats paired with an unmistakeable earnestness in Gibbard’s voice make this album completely captivating, a perfect accompaniment to cold, late nights. But while so many of the lyrics point to strained relationships and isolation, and the album itself is titled Give Up, the album retains so much optimism. Optimism that says “yes, it’s winter. It’s cold. But it’ll be over soon, and in the meantime, look how pretty everything looks outside.” For reasons that are hard to explain, this is a special record. You’ll have to listen to it to see why.
6. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt (2010)
It stands to reason that an album by Sweden’s The Tallest Man On Earth perfectly captures the feeling of winter. Perhaps only someone who has lived in a country where temperatures are in the negative as often as not can truly understand winter. What doesn’t stand to reason is how one person and a steel-stringed guitar can create such rich, vivid music. Not since Bob Dylan has there been a voice so unique, so entrancing that it makes everything else seem unimportant. It’s hard to explain just what it is about The Wild Hunt that makes it such a great album. It’s more than just one man and his guitar. It’s an entire season, condensed into 34 minutes and 38 seconds.
7. Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots (2014)
Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn originally shied away from using the term ‘solo album’ when he released Everyday Robots in 2014. He said it sounded lonely, which is something he wanted to avoid. But this description is surprisingly fitting for an album of what he called ‘empty club music’. It’s a cold, minimalist album that delves deep into Albarn’s psyche to reveal an undeniable theme of loneliness. Although, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. It’s a deeply personal record that weaves together genres and elements from every part of Albarn’s expansive career and brings you face to face with the man himself. Everyday Robots will drag you in, professing loneliness, but you’ll soon find that it’s a comforting companion.
8. Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind of Fix (2011)
Alright, enough about loneliness and heartbreak. There’s a lot to love about winter, as Bombay Bicycle Club’s third album, A Different Kind of Fix, shows us. The album’s blend of dream-like harmonies and keyboards conjure up imagery of brisk winter sunrises, which is enforced by lyrics in songs like album opener How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep. A Different Kind of Fix is certainly more energetic and less brooding than many of the albums on this list, but it’s still just as much of a winter record. It’s telling you to go out and soak up that winter sun, enjoy it while you can, because there’s not as much of it around this time of year.
9. Josh Pyke - The Beginning and the End of Everything (2013)
For Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke, this was the album where it all came together. The definitive statement, the culmination of his sweetest melodies and most poetic lyrics, The Beginning and the End of Everything. For any and every situation in life, there is a lyric from this album that fits it so perfectly, you’d swear it was written just for you. It’s a perfect winter album, because it’s the ultimate comfort album. So, as Pyke says on the album’s fifth track, let him be “the one to warm you in winter”.
10. Simon & Garfunkel - Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits (1972)
Okay, so compilations are kind of cheating because they’re not really proper albums. But this isn’t your ordinary Greatest Hits. It’s not just a collection of the Simon & Garfunkel singles that got the most radio play. Four of the album’s 14 songs were previously unreleased live versions, which bring out the stark arrangements and incredible harmonies that the duo were known for. They don’t need a fancy studio to produce their songs, all they need are their voices and their guitars. This album delivers you the essentials, all the Simon & Garfunkel you need, with equal measures of ‘gloomy staying-indoors’ and ‘enjoy the winter sun’ songs.