Since early this morning, the sky has been dumping snow on much of the eastern United States. Especially for those of us in the Northeast, this is nothing new — this unusually harsh season has been bringing us snowstorm after snowstorm, cold snap after cold snap, for months. Spring may officially be only two weeks away, but you wouldn’t know it from the icy tableau that is New York (or Boston, god help them) today. So, to soothe — or perhaps just distract — you blanket-covered, tea-sipping masses, I offer this collection of songs that encapsulate the experience of endless winter.
Sky Ferreira — “Omanko”
A semi-nonsensical, fully dissociative prayer to “Japanese Jesus,” the weirdest song on Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time sounds like it was recorded under eight feet of snow, during a blizzard. It’s like a recurring Christmas nightmare that crosses over into transcendence.
Low — “Lion/Lamb”
“Are you a lion or a lamb?” So far, the answer for this March is clear, but there’s something in the slow pace and muted strings of this old Low track that evokes a deep freeze. “To go without is suicide,” Alan Sparhawk sings, suggesting the sort of nonspecific, spiritual deprivation that sets in when it’s too cold and dark to leave home.
Jens Lekman — “The Cold Swedish Winter”
Sure, the Northeast is a howling tundra this year, but we’d all do well to remember that nothing tops a Scandinavian winter. So here’s everyone’s favorite Swede with a reminder, sort of, in the form of a blizzard-set romantic encounter that finds our hero involuntarily yelping when the girl he’s just met touches him with her cold fingers (in her family’s house, no less). It eventually becomes clear that it’s all a metaphor for stoic, Nordic repression, but the line that will stick with me forever is this one: “When people think of Sweden/ I think they have the wrong idea/ Like Cliff Richards, who thought it was just/ Porn and gonorrhea.”
Björk — “Black Lake”
Björk’s songs always seem to play with aural temperature, punctuating mechanical coldness with bursts of jubilant (or at least human) warmth. But “Black Lake,” from her new album Vulnicura, is ten minutes of wading through that frosty, murky slurry of the singer’s desolate heart. The static is black snow. Even the bubbles sound like ice bubbles.
Nick Cave — “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”
At those extreme moments when quiet, slushy desperation escalates into a sort of snow-blind, communal, holy fugue state, we turn to our foremost poet of extremes, Nick Cave.
Raekwon — “Cold Outside (feat. Ghostface Killah)”
Speaking of horrific wintry visions, Raekwon’s are as real and specific — from AIDS to Iraq — as Cave’s are fantastical and grand, though the two songs share distinctly unsettling spiritual undertones.
Brian Eno — “Slow Ice, Old Moon”
A reminder that there is still beauty to be found in the snowy wasteland. This instrumental track, from Eno’s 2010 album Small Craft on a Milk Sea, evokes the sound of icicles falling into a river that is, itself, on the verge of freezing over.
Gowns — “Fargo”
I first heard Gowns’ Red State in nearly ideal circumstances: through headphones, on a bus from New York City to rural Pennsylvania during a snowstorm. The entire album by Erika M. Anderson’s pre-EMA band is a document of her home state, South Dakota, in all its thermal and political coldness. “Fargo” in particular, though, envisions a gorgeous moment when drugs and aimlessness and cabin fever are sublimated into a glimpse of transcendence. Maybe that light is spring coming; maybe it’s just a fleeting illusion.
Mount Eerie — “Cold Mountain”
Journeys up mountains tend to be allegories. This one is about knowledge — of self, others, and the world — and (I think) how all of it can lead to a destination where the only thing to do is something desperate. A chilling excursion softened by Phil Elverum’s comforting whisper.
William Basinski — The Disintegration Loops I-IV
This is cheating in that Basinski’s four Disintegration Loops albums aren’t a single song but half a day’s worth of listening material, but if there’s a better musical metaphor for time passing with ponderous slowness than these records of tape loops deteriorating, I haven’t heard it.