SOUNDS OF THE SEASON - Winter
Winter is the most challenging playlist to compile - probably because this time of year can be so divisive in its simultaneous beauty and brutality.
What I'm drawn to is stuff that compliments my environment, as opposed to being contrary to it. The soundtrack should serve the story as much as the other way around.
For one reason or another, here are 10 of my go-to albums that get me through the darkness.
Blue Joni Mitchell (1971)
Acoustic dots & dashes sound as much like falling snow as Joni's falsetto meanderings. Her depictions of bohemian lifestyles and complicated romances paint varying concepts of intimacy and self-involvement - good stuff for tryin' to keep warm.
The album also boasts a Christmas song ("River") and even her ode to warm weather ("California") plays out more like long-distance yearning.
In Through the Out Door Led Zeppelin (1979)
For a band saturated in high blood pressure boogie and growling humidity, this - their final album - feels less bombastic and more melancholic in places (even when they're in your face).
There's a newfound sincerity in stuff like "In the Evening" and "I'm Gonna Crawl" that was always just-about-absent from everything that came before. In other words, they matured from "Whole Lotta Love" to "All My Love."
INLAND EMPIRE (Soundtrack) Various Artists (2006)
Nothing says 'bleak' like some sorta inter-dimensional Polish winter nighttime.
It's an eclectic mosaic of sounds that is uniformly unsettling (or, if you're like me, comforting): long intervals of spooky drones, ominous strings, and lonely piano notes are interrupted by splashes of pop music (Beck, Little Eva), jazz (Dave Brubeck), and whatever genre you put Penderecki under.
The real standouts are Lynch's "Ghost of Love" and Chrysta Bell's "Polish Poem" - both add extra chills as you're sitting in your car waiting for the heat to kick on.
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards Tom Waits (2006)
Spanning three albums and two decades, a marathon of Tom is exactly the smoky, boozy, gravely shades of blue, brown, and gray you'd expect: political commentary ("Road to Peace"), strip club anthems ("LowDown"), psychedelic r&b ("Dog Door"), and disjointed anecdotes ("The Pontiac") all barely amount to just one coffin nail to keep under your hat for luck.
My Generation The Who (1965)
Alone in your room with some brandy & uppers, protected from the harsh elements of the season and ensconced in the harsh reality of existence is how to indulge in Maximum R&B, and these four mods deliver it via "Out in the Street," "The Kids Are Alright," "The Good's Gone," et al.
Smash some stuff.
News of the World Queen (1977)
If you've ever seen the music videos for "We Will Rock You" or "Spread Your Wings," you'll always feel a bit of bitter cold in your shoes whenever you hear them.
Stuff like "Sheer Heart Attack" and "Fight From the Inside" gratify your punk/metal adolescent despair, while "My Melancholy Blues" gratifies your regular, everyday despair.
Spirit In the Room Tom Jones (2012)
If the dreary grayness is your focus of the solstice, then you could do worse than this assortment of bluesy covers from sexiest lounge singer from Vegas to South Wales.
His versions of "Tower of Song" and "Bad as Me" don't embellish much from the originals, but his trademark swagger & grumble do dispense some doom on "Soul of a Man" and "Just Dropped In."
Demolition Girlschool (1980)
If your winters consist of as much snow as we get here in the northeastern U.S., you may be aware that navigating a vehicle is like roaming a frozen tundra in some post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque terrain. In this event, you need a soundtrack to give you confidence in the road warrior that you are.
Behold, "Midnight Ride," "Race With the Devil," and especially "Breakdown" will give you the guitar-rock energy you need to get where you're going, or die trying.
Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Need a break from Rumours? Give this lighter but equally good singer/songwriter orgy a spin. The SoCal sound they became best known for once the new lineup was established hadn't entirely parted the clouds yet here, and while tracks like "World Turning" and "Monday Morning" are sunny, it's a cold sunshine. Actually, that applies to the whole album - just ask Rhiannon.
The Long Run Eagles (1979)
Another decidedly warm-weather band, though this - their sorta final album - is full of less laid back moods and more sinister tones like "The Disco Strangler" and "Those Shoes." More than that is if you've ever spent a cold night in a dive bar or pool hall, you should already know all the words to "Heartache Tonight."