It’s going to be a long winter. One filled with uncertainty, and spent (at least partially) in another national lockdown having to, once again, endure countless Zoom quizzes. So now is the time for musical comfort food.
Whether that’s enjoying the euphoric party of Jamie xx‘s ‘In Colour’, soundtracking a dull afternoon with the wild avant-pop of Charli XCX‘s ‘Number 1 Angel’ or putting a spring in your step with Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, cast aside your introspective albums filled with sad lyrics, press pause on the lovelorn ballads, and instead bring out the records that’ll help brighten your day.
On the hunt for the perfect musical winter warmer? We’ve got you. Here NME writers recommend uplifting albums that’ll help you through the next six months.
Nothing quite like a dingy winter lockdown and daylight disappearing at 4:30pm to make that burning desire to fly out to Hawaii that little bit more intense, is there? Let Childish Gambino, AKA Donald Glover, transport you to island paradise without the need to shell out ££££s for a plane ticket or observe local quarantine guidelines. The ‘Kauai’ EP is a bright’n’spritely seven-track blast of R&B-meets-alternative pop-meet-soul which sees Gambino flex his vocal prowess (‘The Palisades’), share a track with his brother Steve Glover (‘Poke’) and produce a genuine contender for best pop song of the 2010s (‘Sober’). And to finish it all off? A chilled ‘Beach Picnic’ version of his mega-hit ‘3005’. See you on the beach?
‘In Colour’ (2015)
The perfect balance between rave-y hedonism and contemplative calm, Jamie XX’s fittingly-titled debut album ‘In Colour’ will help see you through the cold and bleak winter months. With it’s kaleidoscopic artwork reflected in its vibrant and understatedly joyful sonic palette, tracks like ‘Gosh’ and ‘SeeSaw’ will boost your dopamine levels despite daylight fading into darkness quicker. An adaptable soundtrack to suit whatever emotion you’re feeling, ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’ is exactly the kind of positive banger that we all need to see us through another lockdown. Play on full volume while you’re doing the housework and I guarantee it’ll brighten up your day.
‘Lady’s Bridge’ (2007)
Housing the winter sun-dappled ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’, a glimmering baroque-pop epic draped on a rich baritone as well-worn and comforting as your favourite cosy jumper, Richard Hawley’s ‘Lady’s Bridge’ is the perfect album to bask in as seasonal gloom comes to greet us. The dashing orchestration and huge, endearing melodies of ‘Serious’ and ‘Valentine’ are sure to warm up even the iciest of days, with the kind of magic that only Sheffield’s incurable romantic can conjure.
‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ (2020)
One of my favourite things about the winter months is having my parents round and going through their playlist of ’70s party bangers – beloved disco favourites that only seem to get dusted off around the Christmas period. The current lockdown has put paid to that, so instead, I plan to see out the rest of 2020 with a constant stream of Jessie Ware’s ‘What’s Your Pleasure’. Rich with glittery Studio-54 nostalgia, it brings the party to you without being ‘too much’ for repeated daytime plays, the perfect soundtrack for one too many afternoon bucks fizz’s in front of the inevitable family festive zoom quiz. Who knows – maybe staying home might not actually be so bad?
‘There Are But Four Small Faces’ (1967)
If you’re feeling down or below your best, there is no better cure than a short, sharp and expertly crafted pop song. ‘There Are But Four Small Faces’, released by the Cockney rock and rollers in 1968, is stuffed with them. Announcing the band’s arrival Stateside, the record, more a collection of hit singles than a studio album, was their first on American soil. So naturally, they loaded it with killer (definitely no filler) tracks which blended their artful soul with furious proto-punk riffmaking – and Steve Marriott’s unrivalled lead vocals. From slow-burning classic ‘Tin Soldier’ to the edgy mod sounds of ‘Here Comes The Nice’ and ‘Itchycoo Park’, there’s plenty to get stuck into – and not a bad vibe in sight.
‘Jazz Jamaica’ (1962)
Recorded in the early 1960s at the famed Federal Recording Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, this sun-kissed collection gathers together tunes from some of the era’s undersung talents. The roll-call includes hard-bop pioneer Horace Silver and the incredibly gifted Don Drummond, the genius trombonist whose violent and tragic life (he experienced terrible mental health and in 1965 was convicted of murder) seems wildly at odds with this transcendent, blissful music. Jazz had caught on in a big way in Jamaica by the time this record was made, with stars such as Dizzy Reece having left the island to make it big in New York and Europe; luckily a new generation of hepcats was on hand to keep the good times rolling.
“We’ll stay inside till somebody finds us, do whatever the TV tells us, stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz for days”. If ever there was a more perfect plan for the dead of winter, let alone a lockdown winter, than this one laid out by The National‘s Matt Berninger on ‘Apartment Story’, then I haven’t heard it. The whole of their cult classic fourth record is built on an intimacy, a dark night noir vibe and a sense of bittersweet romance that will keep you warm throughout the coldest of seasons.
The first of two critically acclaimed albums Big Thief released last year, ‘U.F.O.F.’ is a swirling, often psychedelic collection of folk music to take refuge in over the winter months. Whether getting swept up in the strutting drumbeat of ‘Strange’ or revelling in the joyous warmth of single ‘Cattails’, ‘U.F.O.F.’ feels like a friend through difficult times. It’s a grower, too, revealing shrouded new textures piece by piece with every next listen. Come spring you’ll wonder how you ever lasted a winter without it.
In all honesty, a lot of my go-to winter records ooze deliciously menacing misery: on a bitterly chilly night, there’s nothing better than sticking on a shadowy record like Portishead’s ‘Dummy’ and basking in its grey, Bristolian mist. But is it cosy and warming like a roaring hot fire? Absolutely not. No, on those sub-zero mornings when I need a shot of musical eggnog to warm the cockles, my most-rinsed album is Paul Simon’s playful, sunshine-shot ‘Graceland’ – mainly because it reminds me of more summery climes and regularly seeing daylight. Plus, ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is my unofficial anthem when I order my pre-Christmas pumpkin spiced latte, and the Starbucks barista spells my name wrong.
‘Number 1 Angel’ (2017)
When everything’s a bit shit, you turn to musical comfort food. Wholesome folk albums to soundtrack cosy evenings in, or all time favourites that are the musical equivalent of chicken soup. But on particularly grey days sometimes what you really need is an injection of pure energy; a record that’ll turn your bedroom into your own personal dance-floor, complete with a strobe light created by turning your lamp on and off really quickly. Charli XCX‘s third mixtape ‘Number 1 Angel’ is ideal for this. It’s a wild future-pop trip, fuelled by genre splicing, glitchy production and a revolving door of special guests. From the pumping dancehall-laced ‘3AM’, to the brilliant, eurodance chaos of ‘Roll With Me’, when things are feeling particularly bleak whack on ‘Number 1 Angel’, dance around in your pants and forget the real world for a blissful half an hour.