I feel for people with seasonal affective disorder. I really do. And I can sympathize, too, because as soon as spring turns into summer, as the air gets muggy and heat gets oppressive and the big comforter is consigned to the closet for another year, I get reverse SAD. I really do. If you’re like me, this time of year is like waking from a shitty night’s sleep in a room that’s too hot to get comfortable to find that a cool change has finally come — it’s like you can function again, like the brisk wind has blown away a fug of depression and fatigue. And look, even if you don’t feel this way, there’s a lot to like about winter, and many of our greatest artists have done a wonderful job of capturing the mood of this time of year.
JJ72 — “Snow”
Perhaps the angstiest winter song ever recorded, courtesy of underrated late ’90s trio JJ72. Singer Mark Greaney was possessed of a voice that could strip paint from the hardiest of walls, and he gave it full rein on this song, howling “Why won’t it snow/ Like they said it would?” as if the lack of snowfall was the single worst thing that had ever happened to him. If you’ve been waiting all year for the first snowfall, of course, you can probably relate.
John Donne — “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucie’s Day”
Back to the 17th century, courtesy of English poet John Donne. St. Lucie’s Day is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the poem’s mood is very much what you’d expect from someone sitting, rubbing their hands together by a guttering fire on the deepest day of winter. And yet, it also gets to the paradox of winter — the darkest day of the year is also the one that starts us on the way to spring, with all its connotations of rebirth and new life. In the meantime, make a cup of cocoa and throw another log on the fire.
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl — “Fairytale of New York”
A classic, and for good reason. I’m not often given to being overly sentimental, but there’s something magical about New York in the winter, when everything is covered with snow and the air is crisp and cold. This isn’t exactly a happy story — it’s hard to find anything saccharine that includes the verse “You scumbag, you maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/ Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God it’s our last” — and yet, it’s a winter romance for the ages.
Alexander Gronsky, The Edge
Russian photographer Alexander Gronsky’s wonderful series The Edge explores the territory in which the city and the Russian countryside meet, a sort of border zone that’s urban yet somehow also wild. But his photos also serve as a meditation on the stark beauty of winter, where a blanket of whiteness covers everything, with only splashes of color to remind us that humans inhabit this landscape. (Or, in this case, dogs. I mean, c’mon, dogs in snow jackets!)
JMW Turner — The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons
Turner is best known for his paintings of light, but it’s the weight of darkness that holds sway here. His painting captures the terrible beauty of an avalanche, a thundering wave of white stark against a leaden sky. If you already hate winter, the site of an avalanche obliterating a mountainside probably isn’t going to change your opinion any, but if you appreciate the stark beauty of an alpine landscape, this is a powerful reminder of the dangers thereof.
Ansel Adams — From the Mountains to the Sea
And speaking of alpine landscapes, c’mon, if you don’t think this is stunning, you’re dead inside. (Possibly frozen.)
Jens Lekman — “The Cold Swedish Winter”
There’s an argument to be made that this is the perfect Jens Lekman song: it’s funny and genuinely touching in roughly equal measures. (Also, “When people think of Sweden, I think they have the wrong idea/ Like Cliff Richard, who said it was just porn and gonorrhea” may be our hero’s all-time best couplet.) As much as anything, it serves as a sort of backhanded ode to the joys of staying in and watching the snow fall: “The cold Swedish winter is right outside/ And I just want somebody to hold me through the night.” Ideally, also someone to drink hot toddies and snuggle under a blanket to watch TV with.
Gerhard Richter — Candle
Sonic Youth fans will recognize this immediately, because it’s the artwork that adorns Daydream Nation. It wasn’t made for that record, though — Gerhard Richter’s painting is a work of art in its own right, and one that’s evocative of this time of year despite its minimalism. There’s nothing explicitly wintery about it, but you just know that the sun’s not shining outside wherever this candle is burning so calmly. As the Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones writes, “Here, the candle – associated with church, prayers and, in this season, carols – becomes more religious, more emotive, than it might in a conventional Christmas image. Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.”
Adalita — “Perfection”
It does snow in Australia, y’know. The video for this beautiful track from former Magic Dirt singer Adalita Srsen’s debut solo record was shot at a place called Mount Baw Baw, a ski resort in the Great Dividing Range that stretches some 2,000 miles down the country’s east coast. The video’s mood is a perfect evocation of the lyrics’ reflective mood — it’s hard not to get a shiver when Adalita sings “Oh you’re closed for the season/ All snowed in…”
Black Sabbath — “Snowblind”
A tender, poetic evocation of the power of a winter landsc— what? It’s about cocaine? Oh.