Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Lincoln had its first snowfall of the year this week. The snow didn’t stick around long, and given Nebraska’s mercurial weather, we may not see any more until January, but I’ve been in a wintry mood ever since. I’m bracing myself for months of long nights and plunging thermometers — and I’m craving “winter” music, though my definition of winter music is probably different than most. For me, winter music doesn’t help me forget that it’s winter, but rather, helps me fully get into a winter mood wherein I want nothing more than to hunker down under a warm blanket with some hot chocolate and a good book while the wind and snow do their worst outside.
Cocteau Twins – Victorialand
Sharing its name with the Victoria Land region of Antarctica, Victorialand features the Cocteau Twins at their most atmospheric. Which is saying something considering the band basically set the template for the whole “dream pop” genre. The album is full of gorgeous ambient guitar textures, woozy saxophone solos, and above it all, Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal voice (and playful, nonsensical lyrics). There’s almost no percussion on the album, meaning that songs like “Lazy Calm”, “Fluffy Tufts”, and “Whales Tails” are left free to drift about like the blown snow, or better yet, the aurora australis. The result is an enchanting and otherworldly listen in which the Cocteaus invite the listener into a wintry wonderland like no other.
Hood – The Cycle of Days and Seasons
I’ve written about this album on CAPC before, but it’s just as much a winter album as an autumn album. I once listened to this album while driving through Minnesota in the middle of February, and it was the perfect soundtrack for the flat landscape covered in snow drifts with the grey skies high overhead. The Cycle of Days and Seasons is certainly not an upbeat album — it can actually be a rather dreary affair thanks to its skeletal arrangements, mumbled vocals, and incidental samples and field recordings. Which I find makes it absolutely perfect for those long, grey, dreary winter days, days that seem like they’ll never end. I suppose some folks might want summery music to help break up the seasonal funk, but — and this may just be my melancholy side talking — I prefer to turn up the Hood and soak up the winter blues.
Thomas Köner – Nunatak, Teimo, Permafrost
And now for something really abstract. Köner has been called a pioneer of the dark-ambient genre, which I’ve always found odd. Yes, Köner’s music is dark and ambient, but it’s a far cry from what I typically find in the genre. Köner’s music — which is largely based on manipulated recordings of gongs — is austere, minimal, and elegant. His drones can be demanding, even well-nigh impenetrable at times (especially on Permafrost), but they can also be majestic and beautiful. Evoking both alien, windswept polar spaces and the dark, mysterious depths of the polar seas, Köner’s music isn’t for every one. But for those willing to brave the chill — and indeed, putting these albums on the stereo might very well lower your room’s ambient temperature a few degrees — these three albums might be definitive “winter” albums. Listen to: Nunatak, Teimo, Permafrost