Low: Ones and Sixes
You can’t have a winter albums list without slowcore favorites 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 the 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.
From sound to song titles to lyrics to even the cover art, there may be no better musical document of Minnesota winters: 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.” The renowned hip-hop duo make Southsiders feel like almost an album-length response to their 2007 favorite “Sunshine.”
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 2011, 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 caries as much weight as the longer releases on this list. Good Luck Finding Iris is a chamber pop outfit who 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 off 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 Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the February edition of The Growler.