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Emerald Recommends: Songs for winter

In this episode of Emerald Recommends from the Emerald Podcast Network, arts and culture editor Sararosa Davies, music writer Jordan Montero and podcast editor Alec Cowan discuss songs for winter. These are songs both new and old that capture the ambiance of winter months: rain, cold and melancholy, but also warmth, friendship and hope for renewal. Additional picks not played in the podcast can be found below.

Songs discussed in this podcast:

“Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers.

“Slush Puppy” by King Krule.

“My Funny Valentine” by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.

“Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers

L.A songwriter Phoebe Bridgers had a big year in 2017. She released her album “Stranger in the Alps,” and quickly rose to prominence in the public radio world — where DJs from Minnesota to D.C championed her wintry, folk sound. The rollicking song, “Motion Sickness,” received the most airplay out of the album’s tracks, and rightly so. Bridger’s quiet, wavering voice contrasts with fuzzy guitar and stable drums. These musical elements lay perfectly under emotional wordplay and cathartic songwriting. This track doesn’t burst at the seams, but instead feels contained in a sense of unease. “I hate you for what you did / and I miss you like a little kid / I faked it every time but that’s alright,” Bridgers sings. Oregon winters are beautiful in their unease.  Sometimes the cold rain, the occasional bout of seasonal depression and gray skies are oddly refreshing. This song and the rest of Bridger’s work reflect exactly that.

“Die Young by Sylvan Esso

Sure, “Die Young” — the standout track on Sylvan Esso’s esoteric sophomore record — is a pop track released last April. Not exactly the criteria you would expect from a winter song. But between its poppy stylings lies warmth, mystery, and despair: a cry for help disguised as a love song. Or is it the other way around? It’s difficult to answer, partly because vocalist Amelia Meath includes anecdotes about suicide and true love in the chorus (“I was gonna die young / Now I gotta wait for you hon”).

Producer Nick Sanborn turns the dichotomy into a comforting trance built around heavy synths, and Meath (one-third of the now-defunct folk collective Mountain Man) invites you in with a whispery drawl. To call it a “perfect” winter song is a stretch, but few songs capture conflicting emotions in such a warm, reassuring context.


“Pretty Little Bird” by  SZA (feat. Isaiah Rashad)

Stuffed with intricate pop ballads stuffed and poetic lyricism, SZA’s 2017 breakthrough record, “Ctrl,” provides listeners with honest self-reflection from the R&B singer. Songs like “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” rose to mainstream popularity because of their sexual subject matter. Though no song from the record is quite as brutally honest and relatable as “Pretty Little Birds.” Rapper Isaiah Rashad demonstrates how he can make his slow, melodic style mesh perfectly with SZA own unique style on his featured verse.

SZA continues to focus on self-reflection on the track, but she stays away from a single theme and instead focuses on her life’s melancholic arc of success. A lyrical concept such as this is no easy feat, but SZA is able to execute it with ease. “But my wings don’t spread like they used to / But I wanna fly with you / ‘Til we hit the heavens / But my wings don’t spread like they used to” SZA and Rashad sing throughout the outro of the track, providing hope and regret all at once.

“Dunkelheit” by Burzum

“Dukelheit,” the opening track on Burzum’s iconic “Filosofem,” feels like an icy wind blowing against bare skin. To record the track, songwriter Varg Vikernes fed his minimalist, black metal guitar through a fuzz pedal and a home stereo system. The result is a harsh, metallic sound that perfectly reflects the winter season’s uncomfortable cold. Vikernes’ lyrics — “A chill rises / From the soil / And contaminates the air” — may hint at some darker meaning, but on the surface, they do well to describe a day of freezing temperatures. Oregon may not be as cold as Burzum’s home country, Norway, but the feeling is still relatable.

“Slush Puppy” by King Krule

This dreary, saddening anthem blends in seamlessly with the cold cement, visible breaths and slow footsteps of Oregon winters. “Slush Puppy” drags along with a melancholic, hopeless core. Archy Marshall’s delicate, falsetto voice and soothing backing vocals personify a sense of longing that asserts itself when the skies become grey.

Maybe when the sky clears, the pulsating tambourine will reside and Krule’s depressed claims will have been resolved. But until then, as the air is cold, “Slush Puppy” will work as a satisfactory score.

“My Funny Valentine” by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet

Gerry Mulligan’s smoothness on the bari sax is unparalleled, and his delicate touch in the upper register of the instrument gives a sweet, mournful sound to this duet. Piano and saxophone dance and chase each other through the song’s swells and Mulligan utilizes every range available, making this song perfect for a hot beverage and an evening spent looking out your window in contemplation. “My Funny Valentine” is blissful finesse and a moving complement to the coming winter days.

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Alec Cowan

Alec Cowan

Alec Cowan is the Podcast Editor for the Emerald. He spends most of his time purchasing books he doesn't read and listening to podcasts to sound more smarter.