***Each title is a clickable link to its respective song on Youtube***
1. The Birth and the Death of Day---Explosions in the Sky*
Perhaps a bit heavier than one might expect from a first track, but an epic of this song's size can really only go first or last. The tune is perfectly befitting of its title, booming into life before receding into mellow beauty, only to burst all the more gloriously at the track's conclusion. No vocals required, Explosions make ridiculously emotive music without uttering a word, and this is a prime example.
2. Alien Observer---Grouper
Portland's own Grouper released a double disc of material earlier this year, and to my mind, this song is easily her finest creation of 2011. Filled only with endlessly looped vocals, and a stray, echoing guitar part, Alien Observer uses simple parts to weave a dense, immersive sounds. Both eerie and beautiful, the song is filled with strange, wintry enchantments.
3. Winter '05---Ra Ra Riot
Decidedly more fun that either of my previous choices, Ra Ra Riot opens this one up with strings that drip with romance, Wes Miles' love-lorn declaration that, "If you were here, Winter wouldn't pass quite so slow," repeated over and over again over the chorus.
4. The Wilhelm Scream---James Blake*
Minimal isn't really a word often associated with Dub-Step these days, so thank god for James Blake, who keeps on fighting the good fight. Like many of his best tracks, Wilhelm is sparse and uncluttered, Blake's echoing auto-tune sounding distant and worn over small beats that grow and grow as time passes.
5. Take Care---Beach House
You almost can't hear the beginning of Take Care without envisioning snowfall. The track is somehow both warm and cold, like sitting in a warm living room and watching the frost blow outside, simple gorgeous sounds repeated until they sink deep into your being.
From what is, without a doubt, the finest album of their career (Turn on the Bright Lights), NYC seems to float into existence, a night-time number without even a touch of the grit and rock often linked to the band. It's a swoony sing-a-long, perfect for ill-lit drives in the planet's coldest season.
Loopy and disorienting, Run is a strange song written by a strange band, but but that doesn't prevent its second half from revealing a startling beauty to the thing. At first mind-bending, and them heart-warming.
8. Ocean of Noise---Arcade Fire
One of the truly, 'big,' songs by a band who goes big unlike anyone else on the scene today, the verses of this epic are dreary and cold, held together by a gentle guitar hook, and a thudding, ominous bass. The track builds and builds, exploding into brass and strings as Win Butler wails away at the troubles of the universe.
9. Lovecrimes (Somehow Unavailable on Youtube)---Frank Ocean*
Frank Ocean is all about being silky-smooth, and Lovecrimes might just be his most accomplished song yet in this regard. The beat is simple and sexy, allowing space for Ocean to not have to yell over his backing. Scaled back R&B masterclass.
10. Lovesick Teenagers---Bear in Heaven
In contrast to Lovecrimes, Lovesick hits like a ton of bricks upon arrival. The tune is powered by unrelenting synths, straight-forward and enveloping, with a chorus that opens up into something massive and taut.
11. Winter's Love---Animal Collective
Though Winter's Love comes from an odder, more divisive period in Animal Collective's career, the track itself should prove appealing to just about everyone. There's something undeniably tribal going on here, from the light taps and chants of the song's first half, to the pounding, jovial tomfoolery of its second.
12. Snookered---Dan Deacon*
One of the craziest, most singular artists working today, Deacon employs his mad-cap take on electro-indie to marvelous effect in Snookered. Unfolding slowly over the course of 8+ minutes, the song sees xylophone tinkering proceed a dazzling fury of vocal samples and computerized mania, always retaining its inherent loveliness.
13. Epilogue---The Antlers
On a playlist full of heartbreakers (It is Winter, after all), Epilogue is doubtlessly the more wrenching. The closing statement on the band's beautiful, miserable Hospice, the tune is built only on an acoustic guitar, and Peter Silberman's pained, impassioned wailings.
14. What's a Girl to Do?---Bat for Lashes
Dark and spacious, this Bat for Lashes track fills up the room with the pounding of a bass drum, a tricky little keyboard ditty, and more echo than you could even imagine. The chorus is where the thing really blooms, Natasha Khan's voice sailing above it all. Be sure to watch the Music Video.
15. Flume---Bon Iver
As if the sound of Justin Vernon's project weren't enough, the words Bon Iver even roughly translate to, 'Good Winter.' This isn't exactly sunny music, a sturdy, weary steel-string guitar powering Vernon's miraculous falsetto, the tune's well of sadness seeping under your skin.
16. Colorado---Grizzly Bear*
One of my very most favorite closing tracks ever, Colorado is a psychedelic experience that makes use of crushingly deep piano chords, and about a million layers of vocalist Ed Droste's ghostly call. The song is bold and confrontational, benefitting from both to become one of the most expansive knock-outs to come from indie music in years.