Smile Politely

Songs of the winter

We know what you’re thinking: Winter, what winter? With the 50-degree weather and relative sunshine, it hasn’t felt so much like winter to us either. It’s more of a prolonged early spring, where the temperature climbs to a relative comfort before plummeting to below zero. An eternal March is what it is. Since Mother Nature’s not cooperating, we thought we’d provide you a little music to get you in the spirit of winter. Whether the songs conjure images of the weather or the resulting blue mood, whether they make you want to hunker down or bust out of the house, here’s a list of tunes that, for us, dutifully represent (what is supposed to be) the coldest season. ― Laura Adamczyk

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”- Arcade Fire, Funeral

It’s not because the tinkling piano in the song’s opening bars conjures the crystalline dripping of icicles from the eaves of a house. And it’s not because the opening lines create a cold, desolate atmosphere of loneliness and adult sadness: “If, if the snow / buries my / my neighborhood. / If my parents are crying / then I’ll dig a tunnel / from my window to yours.” No, I chose this as one of my favorite winter tunes because, despite the implied death and desolation in this wintery landscape, the speaker chooses to reach out, to escape into his snow-filled neighborhood. Indeed, this song, like so many Arcade Fire tunes, doesn’t dwell for long in its own melancholy. Rather, it pushes through, rising to beatific exuberance — piano pounding, violins racing. The song is the opener on the band’s debut LP Funeral, a clue of the poignancy and energy that will follow. But in late 2004, touring in support of the album, the band frequently chose “Neighborhoods #1” to close out their sets — it was the perfect summary of their climactic music and energetic stage performance. In an unreleased live version of the song recorded at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, Mass., during this same tour, a man in the audience can be heard to scream out “You guys are awesome, holy shit!” The Arcade Fire was (and is) a band to see live, a band to get you out of the house, no matter the cold. ― L.A. 

“Benton Harbor Blues”- The Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea

It’s a grey winter and nothing’s doing in Benton Harbor, Michigan, so Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces mopes around thinking about her past: “As I try to fill all of my empty days/ I stumble ‘round on through my memory’s maze.” Not a whole lot happens in this three-minute tune, the present actions of the song serving more as a platform for Eleanor’s thoughts: “I rode a bike in the snow to the mini-mart/ I thought of the ways I had broke my own heart.” With only the speaker’s sad, cheerless memories staying with her, this song could be a real bummer. But it manages to avoid depressive melodrama, instead favoring a quiet, self-aware melancholy — the song’s a little sad, it knows it’s a little sad, but it kind of likes it. It’s one of the brother-sister duo’s most mellow tunes, the mid-tempo beat placing the listener on that ho-hum walk about town with Eleanor. But just before the two-minute mark, the Friedbergers let free a bit of their signature whimsy (while still keeping things more or less contained), the keyboard blooming and swirling, breaking up the song’s steady pace before circling back to the song’s opening lines. The song’s Oh, sigh melancholic mood reminds me of the way that Midwesterners always manage to complain about winter — it’s too cold, it’s too snowy. “I’m sick of this shit,” my own mother seems to say each year around February. But I think, deep down, we all like the winter. We like bundling up, we like trudging through the snow. We like getting together and saying how much we hate it. ― L.A.

“Winter Song”- The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart

This song is still pretty new to me, even though it’s been out for two years now. I really liked the single “Lost in My Mind” when it came out but I haven’t listened to the self-titled full album that much. But, I choose this song for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted a literal pick. Second, The Head and the Heart will be at the Canopy Club on March 5 as part of the Pygmalion Spring Show Series and winter around here tends to drag a bit. It’s a good appetizer to whet our appetites for the next Pygmalion Music Festival, which doesn’t come around again until September 27. Finally, this song has the smooth comforting sounds and longing that I look for in some winter melodies. It’s short and sweet, with quiet fingerpicking and soothing harmonies. There’s even a hint, a slight hint, of Nico (but no one is truly Nico) in the beginning of Charity Rose Thielen’s vocals, as they take you to the border between intrigued and annoyed. And that’s the way I feel about winter really. ― Jeremiah Stanley

“Holocene”- Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I can’t go through winter now without Bon Iver. They’ve evolved since For Emma, Forever Ago, sounding a little like TV on the Radio at times on Bon Iver, their latest release. In December, Pitchfork named it the top album of the year. This song embodies the feeling that I get so often from Bon Iver. Justin Vernon’s vocals surround you (in your head or in the room, depending on how you’re listening to it) and bring warmth. This song makes me want to wrap myself in a warm wool blanket, sip cocoa and stare at a frozen lake in the woods in solitude. And that thought doesn’t make me feel a bit lonely, just comforted and refreshed. — J.S.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Dean Martin, Christmas with Dino


Now, we only hear this one around the holidays, which is too bad. It’s a cute song and it brings out what’s best of the winter season: the feeling of home, of companionship, of being welcome, and of being cozy. This song has been recorded by a number of different artists over the years. For an alternative, listen to the version from the movie Elf with Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell. JoAnne Cammarata



“Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part


Why yes, we studied metaphors in school. I’m completely aware of what the snow metaphor is. But dude, it’s Nick Cave. The absence of warmth, the itchiness of waiting, the dark, are all apt metaphors for addiction. And, if you think about it, for winter. And it’s Nick Cave. For another snow as cocaine metaphor, see “Snowblind” by Black Sabbath. J.A.C.


“7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television” – George Carlin


With the biting cold, the ice and snow making travel a hassle, and the layers upon layers of clothing, laughter sometimes is hard to come by. This one, while not necessarily a representative of the season, does help you get through the longest nights. ― J.A.C.





“The Dogs of War”- Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason


It’s Floyd, so choosing is hard. But this one captures the bleak landscape that winter becomes after the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. It’s stark and bombastic and quiet when you don’t expect it. And always, always, always a slice of truth that is hard to swallow. ― J.A.C.




“Here Comes the Sun”- The Beatles, Abbey Road 


Yes, I know, dead of winter and all that rot, but winter, ultimately, is about the promise of spring; getting through the harsh weather so you can feel the sun on your face. This winter’s weather aside, it’s about knowing that someday soon, you’ll get that day, the first day where you can shed your layers and feel just the tiniest bit of warmth. ― J.A.C.



“The Wolves, Act I & II” – Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Literally everyone has heard the legend of Justin Vernon and his creation For Emma, Forever Ago, and there’s nothing wrong with that story. Dude makes an album in the middle of the sticks of Wisconsin in the depression of his lifetime and comes out a hero. Although the album epitomizes that story, “The Wolves, Act I & II” really sums up that wintery feeling for me. The rustic feel of the track makes the emotion pour out.  We realize that the winter can be a painful season, and as Vernon sings, “someday my pain” is nearly as bone-chilling and goosebump-enducing as that cabin must’ve been. — Patrick Singer

 “Olsen Olsen” – Sigur Rós, Ágætis byrjun

Hearing this track honestly makes me imagine standing on the top of a mountain. Sigur Rós is one of those epic post-rock outfits that gets away with some of the most angelic sounds in modern music. Not only do they create those feelings through the vocals, but as the song progresses, that flute section that pulls you directly into the numbing string progression just reminds me of a scene from a movie. It’s remarkable what a masterpiece they made with that entire album, but for that song to exist from a band that comes from Iceland for God’s sake, that might be the most remarkable part. — PS

 “The Blizzard of ’96” – The Walkmen, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone

The Walkmen remind me of how down about yourself you can be regardless of how well your life is going at the moment. “The Blizzard of ’96” is one of those tracks that instrumentally feels like a track that you would find on one of those old fuzzed out records your grandpa had stored in his cellar. There’s no other way around labeling the band’s melodramatic lyrics as something that reflects my feelings during the cold, dormant winter. The Walkmen have found a way in many of their songs to do just that, but this track in particular make me feel especially cold. — PS

 “Candy Cane Children” – The White Stripes, Candy Cane Children (single)

When Christmas comes around I find myself listening to this track by the duo that is always appropriately dressed for the holidays in all months of the year, Jack and Meg White. This is not only because of the festive content within the song, but in general what comes to mind when I think of The White Stripes nowadays. I find myself reverting back to the Under Great White Northern Lights live DVD where they venture across Canada in an adventure to conquer even the most deserted and lonesome portions of our northern neighbor’s territories. “Candy Cane Children” tells the child to “think again, boy” whenever he wants a new toy for Christmas — and most would tell you that’s pretty Scrooge-esque. — PS

Related Articles