It’s December. Summer’s but a distant memory. The weather’s taken a nose dive, you’ve cranked up the central heating and chucked on another jumper but still you can’t shake the cold. Here’s 30 fireplace indie anthems to warm you up, starting with The Walkmen, ‘While I Shovel The Snow’, a surprisingly pretty and pristine ode to the white slushy stuff.
Gill Scott-Heron – ‘Winter In America’
What’s could be more wintry than a nonchalant jazz flute? “From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims/And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains/Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds/Looking for the rain,” sings Heron in the title track of his 1974 album.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, ‘Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow’
A freezing and fretful Saint Nick finds himself buried under heaps of the white stuff, cut adrift from anyone who might help him: “Is anybody out there please? It’s too quiet in here and I’m beginning to freeze/ I’ve got icicles hanging from my knees.”
AA Bondy – ‘Drmz’
‘Drmz’ is from Alabama folk artist Auguste Arthur “A. A.” Bondy’s 2011 album ‘Believers’. It’s about ‘dreams’ not ‘drums’ (silly) and all the more wistful and evocative for it. Exactly the kind of track you want to hear while sipping a boiling cup of coffee and surveying the coyotes on your ranch.
Elliot Smith, ‘Angel In The Snow’
A peaceful and besotted song from much-missed singer Elliot Smith, in which his voice sounds as pure, tender and innocent as ever, despite the haunting overtones to the song’s climax: “Sometimes I feel like only a cold still life/ Only a frozen still life/ That fell down here to lay besides you.”
The Dismemberment Plan – ‘The Ice of Boston’
From the 1997 album ‘The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified’, the Washington band’s sardonic take on the pressures and inevitable disappointment of New Year is a welcome tonic. All together now: “Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy/And reflects no light, in day or night/And I slip on it every time.”
The National, ‘Mr November’
Partly inspired, originally, by John Kennedy’s candidacy for the US presidency in 2001, but despite the political overtones, though, it’s got a warmer hue than much of the songs on the band’s third album ‘Alligator’: a fuzzy feeling of hope, optimism and quiet determination amidst a snowstorm of confusion.
Elvis Costello – ‘I Felt The Chill Before Winter Came’
Top class lyricist Costello knows how to write a song that resonates with melancholy and longing. Maybe don’t listen to ‘I Felt The Chill Before Winter Came’ after 10 mulled wines if you’ve just been dumped.
Bonnie Prince Billy – ‘Strange Form Of Life’
Bonnie Prince Billy’s ‘Strange Form Of Life’ is a muted fireplace anthem. Like so many of the greatest wintry songs it sounds like you’re listening to it underwater, or behind a snowflake-flecked window before a landscape silenced by drifts of snow.
Sigur Rós – Hoppípolla
To be honest it’s so atmospheric it’d probably sound right in any extreme season but there’s something specifically icy about the, erm, Icelandic rockers’ iconic tune.
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Casmir Pulaski Day’
Nope, it’s not from Sufjans’ Christmas album. That would be too obvious y’see. From 2005 masterpiece ‘Illinoise’ comes this strange story of a complicated romance within a religious community told with typical Stevensian imagery and lyricism.
Jeff Buckley, ‘Hallelujah’
Buckley’s take on Leonard Cohen’s mediation on love, sex, religion and death has arguably outstripped the original in popularity. There’s something so desolate about his arrangement – all delicate and frosted-breath intenseness, from subtle nuances to big, galloping peaks – that feels timelessly beautiful, like an old hymn writ large on a stained-glass window.
Tori Amos, ‘Winter’
Inspired by the singer-songwriter’s relationship with her minister father – and subsequently, full of little, fuzzy flourishes that recall winters gone-by. “Wipe my nose, get my new boots on,” sings Amos. “I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter/ I put my hand in my father’s glove.”
Chemical Brothers, ‘Snow’
Not exactly cosy and inviting, this one: instead, it’s a fuzzy, glitchy electro-beat with guest vocals from Stephanie Dosen that’s akin to watching a raging, rampaging blizzard while you’re hidden away inside.
The White Stripes, ‘In The Cold, Cold Night’
Meg takes an unusual spot at centre-stage in this simple Stripes ditty: both that funereal organ and her frosty, clipped vocal sound coldly hostile, to the point where her come-on of “You make me feel a little older/ Like a full grown woman might” sounds vaguely threatening rather than alluring.
Black Sabbath, ‘Snowblind’
“Something blowing in my hair/ Winter’s ice, it soon was dead/ Death would freeze my very soul/ Makes me happy, makes me cold.” You can always trust the Sabbath for a rousing winter-warmer, eh?
Bruce Springsteen, ’10th Avenue Freeze’
“From a tenement window a transistor blasts/Turn around the corner things got real quiet real fast/I walked into a Tenth Avenue freeze-out,” sings Springers. What’s a 10th Avenue freeze-out? “I still have no idea what it means. But it’s important.” Hmm.
Low, ‘Last Snowstorm Of The Year’
“When we were young/We wanted to die/But the sound of a drum/And the words of a child/Brought different light/Now no one can tell/The winter was nice/But the summer is hell,” sing the Minnesota band in one of the most inverse compliments of Christmas ever.
Husker Du, ‘Ice Cold Ice’
A righteous and riotously noisy blast of noise from Minnesota alt-rockers Husker Du, who thumb their noses at the idea of soft-hearted and winter-inspired balladry and plump for frenetic shocks instead. The perfect way to blast away the deep-freeze.
Leonard Cohen, ‘Suzanne’
Ol’ Len comes across like he’s inviting you to curl up on a rug for a fireside story on the opening track from his debut LP ‘Songs From Leonard Cohen’, his voice all warm and crackly, the instrumentation subtle and soft. Like a mug of pure, steamy comfort.
PJ Harvey, ‘Grow Grow Grow’
In which Polly Jean embodies the spirit some unnerving and otherworldly witch, accompanied by a score that comes on like the most barren of wintry soundscapes: all ethereal, spell-casting chill as she moans: “I sowed a seed, underneath the oak tree/ I trod it in/ With my boots I trampled it down.”
The xx, ‘VCR’
That swooning, innocent keyboard chime? Those intertwined vocal lines, clinging together like silky gossamer? Moon-eyed intimacy personified, here, perfect for curling up and losing yourself in another person while the elements batter your windows.
Glasvegas, ‘A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’
A Snowflake Fell (and It Felt Like a Kiss) is a Christmas-themed EP by Glasvegas from 2008. It was recorded in Transylvania.
Vampire Weekend, ‘Horchata’
New York’s preppiest pop-bunch summon a warm, almost tropical-sounding rhythm to contrast against memories of freezing their knackers off at Christmas, all encapsulated in Ezra’s recollection of: “In December, drinking horchata/ I’d look psychotic in a balaclava”.
The Rolling Stones, ‘Winter’
The Stones recorded their 1973 LP ‘Goats Head Soup’ at the Dynamic Sound Studios in Jamaica, but that didn’t stop them envisioning milder, murkier climes for ‘Winter’, in which Jagger nails exactly how it feels to be in bleak Blighty when the weather turns cold as he yelps: “It’s sure been a cold, cold winter/ And the light of love is all burned out.”
Fever Ray, ‘When I Grow Up’
One of the standout tracks from Knife singer Karen Dreijer Anderrson’s solo album, and one that feels like a snowstorm of all those weird, wintry dreams you had as a kid: creepy, echo-laden instrumentation and her childlike vocal sweeping you away to some oddball, Scandinavian-cold far-away land.
The Doors, ‘Wintertime Love’
A sub-two minute waltz from Jim Morrisson and co, and as daftly love-struck as any song on this list as he tries to eke some warmth into his bones with a spot of love: “Come with me dance, my dear/ Winter’s so cold this year/ You are so warm, my wintertime love to be.”
Foreigner, ‘Cold As Ice’
A brittle, biting kiss-off to an uncaring lover, as Foreigner singer Mick Jones uses some sub-zero metaphors to explain how he’s got the hump with his paramour.