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Fucking Hell, It's Snowing: 16 Songs About Winter

Winter came on time this year, with the first serious snowstorm arriving right on the heels of Thanksgiving. Up here, in northern New England, we may not see the grass again until April. It gets dark at 4:30. Everyone gains weight. If you're not careful, if you don't make a point of getting out, seeing friends and taking advantage of the limited amount of sunshine, you can get very, very depressed. And, you know, given the ever-presence of liquor and firearms in god's country, that can turn out badly.

So, this winter, I'm going to keep up my running, try to ski and skate more, and invite lots of people over for dinner. I'm also leaning heavily on the tunes.

Interestingly enough, there aren't nearly as many songs about winter as summer. You can pretty much rule out sunbelt genres like alt-country, for instance, and indie-pop from temperate California or rainy Portland. It doesn't snow much in London, either, and in New York, there's hardly enough contact with the natural world for it to matter. You can also forget reggae, Afropop, and pretty much every kind of worldbeat, for obvious reasons. And even bands from snowbound places like Boston, Sweden, Detroit or Minnesota tend not to sing about the icy months. For instance, the only Replacements song I can find that's even moderately winter-themed is "Skyway", and that's a stretch. Ditto the Pixies, Sahara Hotnights, the Dirtbombs, and Hüsker Dü. It's a mystery. But there are a few, and I've collected 16 of them here. Enjoy and stay warm!

Elf Power's "The Winter is Coming"
No one is ready for snow this soon, yet those first flakes (and gales and three-foot drifts) are as inevitable as Thanksgiving leftovers. Elf Power shows unexpected empathy -- they live in Georgia, after all -- observing that "Mother nature calls your name / leads you to another space / the winter is coming and you have no time to waste." That means get those snow tires on today, though perhaps you have time for the equally chilly "Wings of Light" before you go.

Vaz's "White World of Death"
This experimental metal duo seems a little too upset about winter. I mean, come on. Shadows freeze upon your face? It's hard to breathe with crystal lungs? Shattered ice drills a diamond gaze? Wear a hat. Get some gore-tex. Stop whining. It could be worse.

Comets on Fire's "Beneath the Ice Age"
And, of course, it may get worse. Here, Cali's premiere apocalyptic noise band contemplates the ultimate solution -- fire or ice -- and chooses both. Sleighbells and tinkling percussion evoke the glacier during this track's extended, very cool introduction, but there's nothing frigid about the wall of guitars that kicks in at the three minute mark.

My Bloody Valentine's "Soft as Snow (but Warm Inside)"
Winter is all about opposites -- howling winds and steamy saunas, Christmas cheer and deep S.A.D. depression, robust outdoor activity and stuffy sealed-tight interiors. That's why this song, with its soft swooning electric tones, dissonant guitars and machine gun drums, fits the season so well. You can use it as a prickly, comfortable soundtrack when you wrap up in a big blanket, make a big cup of tea and obsess about the futility of existence during the darkest weeks of January.

Oneida's "Snow Machine"
Or you could just get goofy. To start you off, here's a great sludgy track about gleaming white powder. It's, er, not the kind you ski on. Happy winter!

Black Sabbath's "Snowblind"
More dirty metal groove. More of what Al Roker never told you about snow. More coke for the holidays, but don't bother sending out for ice.

Elliott Smith's "Angel in the Snow"
Want to avoid depression? Everyone knows it's critical to get out and enjoy the snow. On this obscure track (it's from a 1999 Yeti Zine compilation) we join the uncharacteristically playful Elliott Smith in making a perfect angel in the snow. Or maybe not, given that part about "sometimes I feel like only a cold still life / that fell down here to lay beside you." Anyway, we hear there will be hot chocolate later.

Frank Zappa's "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow"
Well, maybe you don't want to enjoy the snow too much, especially if the neighbors have dogs. This may have been the first record ever that I played expressly to annoy my parents.

The Walkmen's "Blizzard of '96"
This whole album has a wintery feel to me. I'd like to think it was the icy tinkle of the piano, the bitter chill of despondent lyrics, but it's probably because I started listening to it during a particularly vicious February. This track urges us to "make the best of it", it being a blizzard that I don't even remember. Obviously, I've been living in New England too long.

The Mekons' "Winter"
With a revival tent melody I'm sure I heard at church camp and a slow-building chorus that lifts you out of the darkness, this is a winter-time song in spades. It's from Oooh!, another album that gains resonance as the days get shorter.

Sleater-Kinney's "Dig Me Out"
Even if you like snow, in an abstract, isn't-it-pretty kind of way, you could probably do without the shoveling. Fortunately, we've got the blistering title track from what remains my favorite Sleater-Kinney album on hand. The chorus -- the part that goes "Dig me out, dig me in, outta this mess baby, outta my skin" -- even sounds good when you change the words to "fucking snow / fucking snow / can't go anywhere / fucking snow."

David Kilgour's "Slippery Slide"
Snow days are, of course, perfect occasions for catching up on the records you never got around to. Here's a cut from a mostly passed-over CD that it's impossible to hear too often, and maybe it will keep you inside until the roads are dry. After all, today, you won't need to oil the wheels for a slippery slide.

Guided by Voices' "Frostman"
Our esteemed editor once offered me a nickel if I'd stop putting GBV into every fucking list I wrote, which, if I'd complied, would have made me Splendid's highest-paid staffer ever. But, really, money's not my thing, so here's the entire text of this 55-second song. "Frostman says the summer needs to wait for you / Frostman says the wintertime is blue. Oh Frostman I'm with you / even when the sun shines/even when the winter comes." Go ahead, dock my pay.

Fields of Gaffney's "Cold Weather"
Most of us didn't get to Sebadoh until well after Eric Gaffney left, and so missed a weird and wonderful chapter in lo-fi history. Fortunately, he's still making trippy, eccentrically psychotropic music with Fields of Gaffney, if you can find it. Here, he extols the "strange and alluring" appeal of cold weather romance. Yeah, totally, there's nothing like down jackets and heavy wool sweater to get the love light burning.

The Bats' "Around You Like Snow"
New Zealand popsters bury ambiguous winter-themed lyrics under a haze of reverbed guitars. It's soft and fuzzy and slow-moving, the perfect soundtrack for a snowbound morning.

Burning Brides' "Arctic Snow"
So the forecast calls for swirling gusts of heavy guitar, louder-than-fuck crosswinds and mind-numbing blasts of pure evil rock. Oh, yeah, I'll stay inside for that. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

-- Jennifer Kelly

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