It’s hard to separate “winter” and “Minnesota” in terms of their connotation to one another, so why separate them? Winter is here, it’s in full force, and we might as well embrace it as best we can, so here is a list of nine quintessentially winter albums: local edition. Whether it’s titles, lyrics, artwork, or release dates, all of the following albums share the varied sentiments of winter, and there’s something here for every cold weather mood you may be in.
Low, “Ones and Sixes”
You can’t have a winter albums list without the slowcore favorite, Low. While almost any of their 16 albums to date could have fit here, it’s “Ones and Sixes” that stands out—for more than just the simple barren tree on the cover art. The heartbeat of “Gentle” picks up in “No Comprende” as the album’s pace continues to change without seeming overwhelming. The album as a whole reflects the quiet isolation of the Northland, yet it’s communal and comforting at the same time, asking those aching questions that come up when we have too much time to ourselves in winter to sit inside with our thoughts.
Minnesota Orchestra, “Sibelius: Kullervo” and “Finlandia, Kortekangas: Migrations”
The Minnesota Orchestra are now among the world’s leading interpreters of Jean Sibelius, under the baton of Osmo Vänskä, their music director, who shares the great composer’s Finnish heritage. This two-disc set not only features Minnesota’s famed orchestra, but also Finland’s YL Male Voice Choir as well as vocal soloists Lilli Paasikivi and Tommi Hakala. Jean Sibelius’s five-part masterpiece, “Kullervo,” and his beloved “Finlandia” were recorded live at Orchestra Hall in February 2016. The disc also includes a commissioned Olli Kortekangas work about the Finnish migration to North America, titled “Migrations.” These Nordic pieces are good reminders of much of Minnesota’s Finnish ancestry and of the wintery tundras from where they were born. But they are also great reminders to just be thankful that Minnesota is farther south than Finland, and winter could be much harder; what a Minnesota Nice way to say “it could be worse.”
From sound to song titles to lyrics to even the cover art, there may be no better musical document of Minnesota winters in the city. (Try naming a cold-weather anthem better than “Bitter.”) “Southsiders” draws obvious inspiration from Atmosphere’s home base of South Minneapolis with songs like “January on Lake Street.” They even sample the light rail announcement for the 38th Street station at the beginning of “Arthur’s Song.” “Southsiders” feels like almost an album-length response to the renowned hip-hop duo’s 2007 crowd-favorite, “Sunshine,” a go-to summertime anthem that expresses the simple easiness in those warmer days we tend to long for in the middle of winter.
You can’t make a playlist of local music without putting Prince on it. This album, released in 1986, served as soundtrack to the French film “Under the Cherry Moon.” Although the movie got panned, the music most definitely didn’t. The album is best-known for the hit “Kiss,” which is a bop that can help you dance your way through winter, but this album—like most of Prince’s music—has few hints of the Minnesota winters that Prince knew as well as any of us. The album ends with “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a fact that, in Minnesota at least, is all too true. The lyrics “shivering madly in your embrace” on “Life Can Be So Nice” remind us that even a little loving isn’t always enough to warm you up, no matter how steamy things get.
Poliça, “Give You the Ghost”
A Valentine’s Day release from quite a few years ago now, the debut LP from the local synth-pop band has just as much possibility to be romantic as it does to be an escape from the saccharine season. Now widely known nationwide, Poliça have become a new source of pride for Minnesotan music lovers. Channy Leaneagh’s voice, a full-fledged instrument and not simply a vehicle for the delivery of lyrics, drives tracks ranging from “Violent Games” to softer, atmospheric numbers like “Amongster.” It all comes together to create a soundtrack perfect to help you get through a long winter.
jeremy messersmith, “Heart Murmurs”
There isn’t a bad song on this February 2014 release, the fourth full-length from one of Minnesota’s favorite singer-songwriters. The grand, orchestral sounds messersmith deploys balance beautifully with the heartfelt lyrics he’s known for. This album feels like a big hug and a boost of creative encouragement to get you through those dark morning commutes. If you need another boost, add messersmith’s 2017 micro folk record “11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs for Ukulele.” Everybody gets a kitten!
Good Luck Finding Iris, “Patience”
This band’s debut EP only runs six songs, but it carries as much weight as the longer releases on this list. Good Luck Finding Iris is a chamber pop outfit on the local indie label Subaquatic Records. Good Luck Finding Iris have put together a romantically cohesive collection of tracks that showcase lead singer Michaela Stein’s vocals. The control she has is heart-stopping, and hers may be one of the clearest voices in the local scene right now. “Ours is the voice of youth, of light, of harmony; the voice that speaks louder, crying out in search of meaning,” reads the band’s bio. “In search of a guiding melody that returns the soul to the forest.” Like winter itself, this is music that seduces in quiet, unexpected ways.
Trip Shakespeare, “Across the Universe”
Trip Shakespeare’s 1990 album sold 33,000 copies, and it seems like every single one of those buyers still treasures the purchase. The indie band that came before members Dan Wilson and John Munson co-founded Semisonic (with Jacob Slichter) is known for numerous songs, but the “Across the Universe” track “Snow Days” might be the one that gets most play now: it’s a go-to for Minnesotans wanting to celebrate the season. The repetition of the lyric “it’s coming down” expresses both how frustrating and how exciting it can be on those days when winter slows the everyday routine.
Tony Peachka, “dirty knees”
We’ll close this list with something a little louder, a little more upbeat. Tony Peachka have risen in the past year to be one of the local DIY scene’s favorites. Their self-described “plucky, spastic, blown-out jammers” include lyrics like, “Each month I get colder / Don’t wanna go to bars in the evening / Gonna stay inside and eat all my feelings,” and, “I’m always searching for something inside my room / Well I’ll never find it, it’s just me and my winter mood!” Right up through the frustrated screaming at the end of “Creeping Charlie,” Tony Peachka unapologetically share the sentiments that many of us feel during the coldest months in their signature angry-pop songs that are both cathartic and danceable.
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.