Six of the Best – Songs for Winter

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Sweater Weather – The Neighbourhood

In 1987 Ray Charles sung a duet with Dionne Warwick, telling my mother; ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ to which she responded to by staying inside, drinking a lot of eggnog with my father and involuntarily conceiving my sister. Let that be a lesson to you. Frank Loesser’s classic tune is a pretty sexy Christmas song, as sexy as the average Christmas song goes, so my mother, on this occasion can be forgiven.

But as we have thankfully moved on from the 80s, we enter the 00s without a perm or shoulder pad in sight, seeking a new musical accompaniment for when the urge to grab some wintry afternoon delight strikes. For this we look to the warmth of Californian five – piece, The Neighbourhood and their latest release ‘Sweater Weather.’

The track has a good balance of lyrics which range from suitably flirty; “put my finger on your tongue ‘cause you love to taste” and exceptionally twee; “Use the sleeves of my sweater, let’s have an adventure”. Together, the words melt into a modern, seasonal serenade full of promise and passion as; “inside this place is warm, outside it starts to pour,” evoking the same sentiment as good old Loesser had intended. The Neighbourhood however, have cranked it up a notch to suit the more sexually accustomed ears of 2012 at the most wonderful time of the year.

In a nutshell or chestnut if we’re being festive, ‘Sweater Weather’ is an upbeat winter warmer with a catchy riff, sturdy tempo and a merry smattering of seasonal smut to see you through cold dark nights. It’s a short, sweet song wishing goodwill to all men in some way or another. So take heed and strip off your Christmas jumper, sit by the fire and warm your cockles. It may be the only way of staying warm.

—- Stephanie Bell (Culture Editor)

Cutting Ice To Snow – Efterklang

Despite having one of the most fun-to-say names in all of pop music, the Danish trio Efterklang have never seemed to make the sort of impact in the UK that their gorgeous music deserves. Their second album, Parades, left a trail of smitten critics and entranced listeners in its wake, spawned a huge number of mesmerising live performances, and even impressed listeners in their home country so much that they spent some time touring with the Danish Chamber Orchestra (performances subsequently released as Performing Parades).

Parades is my perfect winter album for a number of reasons (not least because I first heard it on Christmas Day). On the first spin Parades impresses as an album of cold and icy precision; an all-too-perfect arrangement of pianos, horns, harps and a whole det kolde bord – that’s the Danish for smorgasbord, you idiot – of other obscure noise making devices (fancy percussion instruments, bagpipes warped and distorted through synthesisers, that kind of thing). But it’s an album that reveals new charms each time you come back to it; the snow gradually melts, revealing a little bit more of a truly gorgeous musical landscape after every play through. Nowhere is this more apparent than the album’s final track, the suitably titled Cutting Ice to Snow, a delightful mix of tinkling pianos, yearning horn parts and choral vocals that swirl and grow and build before exploding into life in the final minutes with a bombastic, Wake Up-esque outro of playful piano, anthemic guitars and a stomping drum beat.

Listening to Parades feels like spending a day playing outside in the aftermath of a heavy snowstorm. It can sound a little cold and imposing at times, but given time it becomes apparent that it’s just a base for a powerful yet playful experience. And if Parades is like frolicking in a blizzard, then Cutting Ice to Snow is akin to stumbling back into a warm house with friends, kicking off your sodden boots and socks in front of a hissing, crackling fire, and sipping from a steaming mug of mulled wine. A true winter treat.

—- Joe Henthorn (Carolynne Editor)

Get Behind Me, Santa! – Sufjan Stevens

Whilst he may be better known for the likes of the beautifully orchestrated ‘Chicago’, and haunting banjo-and-voice pieces like ‘To Be Alone With You’, Sufjan Stevens also does an impressive line in semi-legendary Christmas albums. In the context of Stevens’ wider body of work, these festive splurges aren’t that odd at all. His jolly Christmas tunes are relatively tame compared to the Glass-esque repetition of The BQE (a musical exploration into the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), never mind the bizarre and compelling electronic experiments of his little-known second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit.

Since 2006 he’s released ten massive (really, really massive – like, 23 songs on each disc massive) discs of festive goodness, with the songs themselves spanning everything from obscure 15th Century German carols to completely original pieces. The man really loves Christmas – as is evident from the silly pun, exclamation mark and unconstrained musical glee of  fan-favourite ‘Get Behind Me, Santa!’

The song does a remarkable thing – it turns the tortured maximalism of The Age of Adz inside out. So instead of the inward-looking, soul-searching lyrics and all-consuming orchestral breakdowns, we get lyrics that basically equate to ‘Holy shit! It’s Christmas!’ and enough major chords to make Ebenezer Scrooge break into a smile. The frenetic trumpet noodling and hilariously corny organ sounds hammer the spirit of the season home from the moment you press play and don’t let up for four minutes, and then, as if you hadn’t already had enough festive delight for one day, the whole thing climaxes with a frantic C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S sing-a-long part.

It’s basically the perfect way to get in the mood for Christmas, but due to its absolutely relentless festive cheer, it does have the power to irritate, especially since it’s not quite December yet. I listened to the song a couple of times whilst writing this article, and already I’m wishing it was January. Like brandy and Christmas Pudding, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.

—- Joe Henthorn (Carolynne Editor)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Martin/Blane/Garland

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has all the elements for a beautiful holiday ballad; the melody expresses the sadness of the cold weather and dark evenings, whilst the lyrics convey the hope and joy of the Christmas period. Together these help to brilliantly portray the winter season, and make it the perfect Christmas song for any activity of the season.

With its lyrical focus on family, friends and gathering together at Christmas, like most people do, this song allows itself to resonate with Christians and anyone who chooses to celebrate Christmas all over the world. It talks of the important side to Christmas rather than just the presents and snow, which is often the focus of many other Christmas songs, so manages to become a heart-warming song that will bring a smile to my face, even if I only hear the opening line. It also manages to create that warm, Christmas feeling in people without the use of any Jingle Bells.

Originally recorded in 1944 by the iconic Judy Garland for the film Meet Me in St Louis, this song sent a message of hope to the US troops fighting in World War Two and helped them to get through the difficulty of being at war, and away from their families, at Christmas time. Although it has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Antebellum, the song retains its beauty and meaning. Except for when the Cheeky Girls took a bash at it.

Since its original recording Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has been used as the background music for the “Christmas Scene” in many films, such as The Godfather, and makes the perfect montage music for Christmas films when the main character is feeling down and alone surrounded by tinsel and fairy lights, see Nativity.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is my personal favourite song for every aspect of Christmas. It was the first seasonal song I heard this year, as a friend at work sang parts of it in between serving customers. It is also the perfect song to listen to when wrapped up in winter clothing and shopping during the late night openings. It has remained a huge favourite among Christmas song fans after nearly 70 years and does not look to be going away too quickly, the sign of a truly remarkable song.

—- Charli Stevenson

Ice Dance – Danny Elfman

When I’m on a chilly walk home in the dark, or when snowflakes are landing on your nose, this is the ultimate track to listen to. Taken from the ice sculpting scene in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands”, this beautiful piece soundtracks Kim dancing in the ice that is shedding from the sculpture Edward is making, creating the effect of falling snow. Of course, we don’t see much snow here in Lancaster being so close to the coast, but it doesn’t get painfully cold at times, and I highly recommend this piece to set the perfect mood for your frosty days this Winter. The plucking of the harp, the gentle glistening sound of the wind chimes and the Christmassy warmth of a choir are all fabulously put together to illustrate the shimmer of frost on the trees, the icy winds and the magical sight of pure white snow falling on the ground.

No words are needed to further enhance the enchanting atmosphere this work grasps; the harmonies will give you goosebumps and the delicate instrumentation will send a tingle through your bones, bringing feeling back to those numb fingers and toes. Despite how it captures the tingly chill of winter, “Ice Dance” fills you up with warmth that will undoubtedly make you smile, however much you may want to get to that toasty fire at home. It takes a very talented film composer to be able to come up with a piece that is enjoyed outside of the scene it is associated with but Danny Elfman has succeeded here in producing something that will bring pure magic and joy to your winter this year.

—- Steff Brawn (Deputy Culture Editor)

Shiver – Lucy Rose

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDZ3cWHGQ-k

Every once in a while you come across one of those exceedingly irritating music snobs that say something along the lines of; ‘oh, well I loved them way before they got famous’ when a new song comes on. Unfortunately, when it comes to Lucy Rose I become one of these aforementioned snobs; having tracked her on YouTube for years and followed her to various gigs around the country, it doesn’t exactly make me jump for joy when her songs become backing music for Hollyoaks.

Nevertheless, I was highly anticipating the launch of her debut album in September of this year and as Lancaster’s winter pretty much begins around that time it couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate moment.
‘Shiver’ – one of my favourites from the album just leaks wintery coldness, I mean, it’s in the title. It’s beautifully mellow, with a warm acoustic feel that suits Lucy’s silky smooth vocals to a T. It’s not exactly a cheery song but, let’s face it, aside from Christmas excitement winter’s on the whole quite a dark, brooding season. This song is perfect for those ‘dark, brooding’ moments; the lyrics somehow manage to make you contemplate absolutely everything, and there are times of intensity amongst the quiet serenity of the guitar and vocals that sort of just makes you want to cry a little bit.

Whether you’re inside with the radiators on full, a gazillion blankets and a mug of hot chocolate, or walking home in the rain after a crappy day at Uni, I can guarantee this song will make your winter a little bit lovelier.

—- Lucy Smalley

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