Car seat is freezing.

January 9, 2010

I last did a Winter Mix in 2008, but I skipped it last year because of the conversion to the new blog site and a general apathy towards the season last year anyway.

But seeing as how the blog is getting more frequent (relatively, of course) updates now, it seems mighty unfair to leave all you good readers with no mix until spring rolls around again. After Christmas, there’s still a hell of a lot of winter to go, you know, and it’s only natural that a handful of good tunes could make the insufferable days a little more sufferable.

Here’s 20 I think should help.

The Winter’s Tale
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen” 2010 w
inter mix

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-11 in a .zip file)
Download Part 2 (tracks 12-20 in a .zip file)

01. The Bird and the Bee – Last Day of Our Love
This song is culled from Inara and Greg’s 2008 EP “One Too Many Hearts,” which is a very charming little set of songs (as all their EPs and LPs are). This may not be the finest moment on that EP (that honor has to go to the faithful cover of “Tonight You Belong to Me”), but this song is awash in that Bird and Bee sheen and the pulsating strings and keyboards just add a lovely little soundtrack to the coldness of the season. May not warm you up in itself, you know, but still brings a bit of a smile to your face.

02. Jon Brion – Theme
One of the many lovely instrumental bits Brion composed for the 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Maybe I think this song has a winter feel because of the movie — the scenes of Joel and Clementine driving around on cold days and nights and that great scene during the memory erasure montage where they jump out of bed on a snow-covered beach. This piece has a beautiful tone to it and a very beguiling charm that seems to innately makes you that happy kind of sad.

03. Oasis – Waiting For the Rapture (Alternate Version #2)
This outtake was pinned onto the deluxe edition of Oasis’ fabulous 2008 album Dig Out Your Soul, and likely represents the way Noel Gallagher originally intended the song to be heard. The “Five to One” pastiche of the final version that made the album certainly has its own brand of awesomeness, but there’s also a great brooding feel to this version that gives you a little chill. Noel sings in a voice just a little above a whisper, exchanging all the conviction of the final version for a bit more foreboding. Still romantically tinged, of course, but something about slowing the song down and delivering like this makes it a bit more dangerous than with the electric guitars and big rock and roll stomp.

04. Joy Division – Atmosphere
This song was originally a French-only B-side, but after Ian Curtis’ suicide, the song gained new legs and kind of worked as his (and Joy Division’s) almighty epitaph. Like the whole of Joy Division’s catalogue, there’s no really friendly sing along feel to this, but there’s a certain indefinable quality here that makes it 10 times more hopeful and optimistic than anything else they ever did. Maybe it’s the synthesized strings and chimes, or maybe it’s the repeated orders of “Don’t walk away in silence.” Pretty much any Joy Division song could be on a winter’s mix, but this is more for those sunny winter days that are brutally cold. Yeah, it’s still a pain to be outside, but something about the sun being out makes everything slightly more bearable.

05. The Raveonettes – Here Comes Mary
Everything about this song sounds straight out of 1958, which I’m sure was Sune and Sharin’s intention, but it still baffles me that this is actually a product of 2005 and their excellent album Pretty in Black. The melody and harmonies bear a striking similarity to the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream,” but with a lyric about a suicidal girl who’s just had her man die, the comparisons probably don’t go too far. Although I wonder if the Everly Brothers could’ve sung a song like that on Ed Sullivan in the late ’50s… Anyway, the bleak storyline aside, this song positively shimmers and for my money, is the best thing the duo has done.

06. Damien Rice – Lonelily
I never got onto the whole Damien Rice train that everyone else did in 2004 and 2005. It was all just a little too college-popular for me, but I was also chasing a girl for a little while in 2005 that was absolutely crazy for him and I thought if I was to have any shot with her, I would have to do my due diligence and try to get into him myself. This was the only song that ever struck me. Maybe it’s appropriate as it kind of describes what happened between me and her, but my chief memory of this song is a late-April snowstorm (as we’re prone to in Wisconsin) and driving to meet her for lunch as this song played. Something about it seemed very promising, and so this song has always carried a winter feel for me.

07. Electronic – Can’t Find My Way Home
Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner didn’t venture into other bands’ material too much when they were working together as Electronic, but this Blind Faith deep cut provided them a lovely little opportunity to pay due respects to the past and put their own unique stamp on the song. Pulled from 2000’s sorely overlooked Twisted Tenderness, this is the kind of thing I think a lot of people would have enjoyed a lot more from Electronic — some incredible Johnny  Marr acoustic and electric guitar work, prominent but not overbearing synth and programming work by Barney, and a fabulously direct but unimpressive vocal.

08. Ben Folds Five – Brick
A recent entry in my “Confessions of a ’90s Survivor” series, but the song really is too good to be hamstrung by its popularity in wildly expansive musical decade. I don’t know of any other songs dealing with abortion that were this popular or this effective, but if the plodding bass and drum lines don’t stir up a bit of coldness, Folds’ description of the fateful day — down to the smells and feel of the journey between the apartment and clinic probably will get you. Of course, the chorus is still pretty gorgeous and saves the song from making you want to down all the Prozac you have left. It sent the Whatever and Ever Amen album into the stratosphere and pretty much unfairly pigeonholed the band of smartasses as a troupe of heavy balladeers, but eh… between tongue-in-cheek covers of “Careless Whisper” and “Bitches Ain’t Sh*t,” Folds is doing a pretty good job of keeping the stigma at bay.

09. Betty Carter – I Can’t Help It
Beautiful pull from Carter’s 1958 album Out There With Betty Carter, this song just sounds to me like a Saturday inside watching a crazy snowstorm outside the window. Of course, many great female jazz singers should be able to deliver that kind of calm in the storm feel, but the production here — and the way Carter backs off the mic to wail “That’s the way that I am, I don’t know how to share” at the 1:24 mark — it’s a great combination to illustrate calm in the storm.

10. Billy Bragg – Ash Wednesday (Band Version)
A lot of Bragg fans missed this track, as it was tucked away as B-side to the 2008 “I Keep Faith” single, and, to my knowledge, only made available to those who could track down the single on iTunes. I don’t know if there is an acoustic or non-band version, like the rest of the Mr. Love & Justice album, but something about this minimalist melody and furrowed-brow delivery makes me think it probably found its most powerful delivery in this state.

11. Phoenix – (You Can’t Blame it On) Anybody
My personal favorite Phoenix track and the centerpiece of 2004’s Alphabetical album (“Everything is Everything” is good, but it ain’t this good). Like many of their tracks, the productive gives the track a cold sterility, but the groove is just perfect and warms any listener up to it. If this is the sound of falling in love with bespectacled Italian girls, well I’m looking that much more forward to my trip over there come this summer. They also need major kudos for using the line “Let me misunderstand you” in the chorus. In writing, it doesn’t look like much, but listen to that line. Very powerful. Maybe I’ll use that next time I’m picking a girl up…

12. Noonday Underground – Go it Alone
Noonday Underground is the kind of band you don’t know enough about and definitely need to check out, because it’s categorically enjoyable groove music. Everything great about the band is captured on their 2002 album Surface Noise, which includes this ice cold cut. Simon Dine is the brains behind the outfit and you can tell by the soul grooves he puts together that it’s no surprise Paul Weller is eager to work with him time and again. Daisy Martey’s vocal on this thing is all kinds of cool. Listen to how she lets go at the 1:50 mark with that “What do I need to erase?” line. It’s those little moments that make you love music.

13. Sleeper – Come On Come On
It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about Sleeper in the 1990s. Between Justine Frischmann, the Spice Girls and Diane out of “Trainspotting,” my teenage mind had enough UK ladies to think about, but since finding out about Sleeper a couple years ago, I’ve fallen desperately in love with the Louise Wener of 1995-1999. One view of the “Nice Guy Eddie” video should more than explain why, but the other thing about Wener is that she could write a fabulous little song time and again. This ethereal little piece never got much exposure since it was a B-side to the overlooked-even-in-England single “She’s a Good Girl,” so I feel a sense of civic duty in making this as available to the masses as possible. That way I can go, “You know, that Louise Wener…” and more of my American male friends can say, “Oh, dude… I know.”

14. Elliott Smith – Twilight
I don’t often listen to Smith’s posthumous album From a Basement on the Hill, because aside from the opening “Coast to Coast,” it just feels a bit too much like a funeral record to me. Posthumous albums should be more like wakes, I think. Given’s Smith’s suicide, the album just invited all sorts of lyrical overanalysis, and while his output during him time on earth wasn’t exactly of the “Hooray for Everything!” variety, there was a bit more charm. The crickets on “Twilight” kind of make it a bit less wintery, but the way he just seems to hit the guitar and the absolutely-defeated delivery… this thing is just cold. I’m sure everyone’s been in a relationship and thought “This other person seems to get me a lot better,” and while that’s probably served as a lot of couples’ ruin, it’s never sounded quite as painful as when Elliott sang about it. Still, this is kind of pretty.

15. Keith Richards – Hate it When You Leave
This song is the single reason why Keef should be everybody’s favorite Stone. Forget the riffs, forget the “cockroaches and Keith Richards” jokes, forget the complete embodiment of rock and roll that he is. Just listen to this. He’s not a great singer, this song features no flash guitar solos — just a bit of musing on a tired Motown-era beat — but it’s more effective than anything Mick Jagger’s ever done on his own and it’s more powerful than anything the Stones have done since Some Girls. The rest of 1992’s Main Offender isn’t a patch on this song, but this is the kind of track that makes an otherwise iffy album entirely worth the price of purchase.

16. Fiona Apple – Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
I know I said in a recent “Vs.” that I prefer the Jon Brion-produced version of this song that featured fabulous live drumming and a carnival-esque backing, but this version from the “proper” version of Extraordinary Machine, is a bit more appropriate for a winter mix. The keys and beat just sound like icicles falling, and while this version lacks the verve of Brion’s, Apple’s take-no-sh*t delivery mirrors the mindset of pretty much everyone (in Madison at least) around the time of the third or fourth big snowfall of the season. The camaraderie and willingness to help neighbors shovel is out the window as everyone takes an “everyone for themselves because this now is everyone else’s fault” mindset.

17. Tom Waits – Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis
A lot of bloggers put this song on their Christmas mixes, and while I’ve noodled with the idea, I just don’t see this song as a Christmas song. I can listen to it any time of year, although the sentiment does seem tailor made for a cold winter day. Waits reads the letter with no defined lyrical form, just in his pained growl over a sad piano and electric piano backing, but it suits the song so perfectly. And while I find parts of it absolutely hilarious — “Still have that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials, but someone stole my record player, now how do you like that?” But I also find the end of the song where the author admits everything is a lie and she just needs a bit of cash heartbreaking every damn time I listen to it. From 1978’s Blue Valentine, this is not only the best moment on the album, but it’s one of the best moments of Waits extensive catalogue.

18. Radiohead – 15 Step
Radiohead’s kind of like Joy Division in the sense that you could probably make a winter mix out of their songs alone, but this thrilling opening to the In Rainbows album is one of the better (if less obvious) candidates. Something about the frenetic beat reminds me of driving down a just-cleared road after a big snowstorm. Hitting a few patches of ice, newly popped potholes — never really getting into a comfortable groove and gripping the steering wheel just a little tighter than you normally would. Of course, when the guitar comes in, it’s kind of that chill moment you get when you realize driving is far from ideal, but it’s also not quite as treacherous as you thought it would be.  Doesn’t mean you don’t continue squeezing the wheel, though.

19. Morrissey – Late Night, Maudlin Street
I’ve always thought this song was a little too over the top, and one of the prominent reasons most people think of Morrissey the way they do. It’s more than 7 minutes of melodrama, there’s nothing about the music that makes you want to move — in fact, it almost forces you to sulk as you listen. But the reason I don’t skip ahead to the next track every time I’m listening to Viva Hate is that lyrically, there’s some genuine Morrissey brilliance in here. The admission of sleeping with a framed picture being “silly,” the profession to love at first sight being real, and the potent quotable: “But you without clothes, oh, I could not keep a straight face. Me without clothes? Well, a nation turns it back and gags.” Unless you’re a through-and-through Morrissey-phile, it’s hard to find a proper place to put this song for good listening. Even on Viva Hate, its a little more laborious than it needs to be. But a winter mix? Ah, we just might have found a home, Moz.

20. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Hang On
Partly because you need something sprightly to follow “Late Night, Maudlin Street” and partly because you need a bit of brightness to pull you through the always unreasonably long winter, Isobel’s porcelain voice breezing over a great little guitar hook is a good send off for this kind of mix and the bright spot that makes the rest of winter not look so bad. Even when the f*cking groundhog sees his shadow. A lot was made about Isobel and Mark’s first teaming on Ballad of the Broken Seas, but 2008’s Sunday at Devil Dirt — which this comes from — also deserves a good listen. 

Stay warm, folks.

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