On Rotation: Winter 2023-24

Lucca Swain ‘27 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Winter. A time of bitter cold, of melancholy, of giant brown piles of slush lining every roadside for miles on end. For better or for worse, it’s an emotional time for many, as with dramatic shifts in the weather and daylight come major changes in our moods and behaviors. Some go skiing, snowboarding, or sledding, while others hole up in their homes with chamomile tea, a blanket, and Netflix, and some still don’t know what to do other than lie in bed all day feeling like total crap (yay, seasonal depression!). Regardless of what activities you partake in, it can’t be denied that with the coldest season’s trademarks like snow and freezing weather, comes an endless bounty of artistic inspiration, including but not limited to very good music that ranges anywhere from mournful to whimsical. In that same vein, here are some winter-esque albums to rekindle your love for the upcoming season, or to help you get through it. 

Moon Pix, Cat Power

1998’s Moon Pix was written in a literal fever dream when Cat Power – real name Chan Marshall – had a nightmare so terrible that it persisted once she had woken up. She claims to have hallucinated “dark spirits” trying to break in from all sides of the farm she was staying in at the time. She wrote the majority of the album in one night, believing that it would be her epitaph, that if she didn’t write down what was happening to her at that moment, she would never see the daylight again. Consequently, Moon Pix sounds like the environment it was written in, like someone trying to capture all of the beauty of the outside world that they might never see again – all of the trees, all the people, all of their feelings – while confined to a dark, musty attic where not even a peep of sunlight gets through. Moon Pix is the calm after the blizzard, the lonely view through a window as you see the last flake fall from ashen gray skies, the soft blanket of sadness that seems to settle over everything in the wake of a storm.

Marshall swings between rock-bottom sorrow (“When the bottle gets empty/ Then life ain’t worth the drown”) and tenderhearted, larger-than-life observations on isolation, on being kind when the darkness of living seems to be all-encroaching (“It’s so hard to go into the city/ ‘Cause you wanna say ‘hey, I love you’ to everybody”) – never forgetting to emotionally molly whop the listener when they least expect it (“Metal heart, you’re not hiding/ Metal heart, you’re not worth a thing). All the while, the backing band plays like a caravan of demented jesters dancing to folk tunes in the forest by twilight, an agitation that leaves the sound of the whole record straddled on a fine line between whimsy and madness. Marshall’s guitar is fuzzy and warm, appearing and disappearing in great uneven splotches, while the drums are intentionally sloppy, thrashing about the canvas with the texture of melting ice sliding around a steel countertop, the fills and rhythm careening in and around the tempo.

No sound on Moon Pix ever locks fully into place, the guitar and drums and Marshall’s weary, wiry voice like storms crashing out at sea, overlapping and running over each other within and ahead and outside of the bar, all topped off by Marshall’s lyrics that run the gamut from unnervingly cryptic spiritual mantras to existential, melancholic ruminations on days long lost. It’s a strange record for sure. And yet, despite how messy it gets, the slacker folk sound of Moon Pix never ceases to be transcendentally beautiful, the ramshackle elements coming together to form a picture hazy, mystical, and oh-so-lonely. 

Crumbling, Mid-Air Thief

In 2018, Crumbling was uploaded to streaming services with no marketing or warning of its release beforehand, the only communication from its enigmatic creator in the form of a quick thank you note in Korean uploaded alongside the record on Bandcamp. Mid-Air Thief, a creator so anonymous that they address their emails to others as being from “Mr. Mid-Air Thief”, had released an album that existed for the sound and the sound alone, with no face or name or any discernible details attached beside the music’s country of origin. None of that is truly important in the case of Crumbling, though, as the sounds on this record are incomparable to anything coming out of South Korea or anywhere, really. 

Great walls of synths shimmer and distort like a brilliant ray of moonlight through stained glass, while acoustic guitars cold as the winter breeze blow through hollow passages that swell into huge, mind-melting crescendos practically overflowing with bells, chimes and distant drums; Mid-Air Thief’s production is beyond pristine, perfectly combining analog and electronic and peppering every single song with an impossible number of small details in the background and foreground. Never does Crumbling take a predictable turn, making sure at every moment to have some small rhythmic, melodic, or structural change float in from the ether and subvert expectations. 

Mid-Air Thief never sacrifices any pop appeal, either, as a track like “Gameun Deut” is positively overflowing with joy and motion, built off of a ricocheting groove stacked with layer after layer of immaculately produced melodies and synths that grows ever more effervescent as the track goes on, eventually reaching a peak that can only be described as absolutely rapturous. There’s also the more somber tracks toward the second half of the record such as “Dirt”, a track that contorts slowly from ambient soft pop into an off-kilter electro-acoustic synth jam (which is not nearly as pretentious as it sounds, I promise), before exploding and branching off into a rainbow of colors and feelings at its climax, the culmination of every mood and style that Mid-Air Thief builds upon across all of Crumbling condensed into one glorious apex of noise and color. And that’s what the record is at its core; one of colors and feelings, a perfectionist taking all the best parts of pop, folk and electronic music, and blending them together to make what is essentially vibe music for the thinking man, enjoyable for the beauty on its surface, but also for it’s mind-boggling intricacy. 

Bocanada, Gustavo Cerati

Towing and at times erasing the line between digital and analog music, Argentinian maestro Gustavo Cerati’s 1999 downtempo masterpiece Bocanada (Spanish for “puff”) is a landmark both for trip-hop and South American music. Cerati, renowned for fronting Latin rock icons Soda Stereo, took an artistic left turn here unmatched by few superstars past or present, crafting a record that is as defined by its oddities as it is by its extreme catchiness, even through a language barrier. Stylistically, the album shifts genres faster than you can blink, often incorporating traditional Latin music elements like on “Tabu”, where an intangible mesh of samples and incredible vocal performance by Cerati combine to create a ludicrously groovy, monstrously energetic gem of a opener that seems almost to transcend time with how it uses electronic music as a conduit to unite so many styles. 

Cerati never rests on his laurels, delving into shoegaze with “Puente,” blues rock on “Paseo Inmoral,” and even classical ideas on “Verbo Carne,” the wide swath of these songs all held together stylistically by the samples, glitches, and spacey tempos that define trip-hop. One of the absolute peaks of Bocanada comes in the form of “Beautiful”, perhaps the track that is the most straightforward in terms of sound, yet is also one of the most finely made trip-hop songs in the history of the genre. Guitars ring out around Cerati’s charismatic, easygoing vocals, while small beeps and trumpets ring off into the distance as if emitted from a submarine submerged in the dark depths of the sea, all based around a chorus with a far-too-catchy Spanglish hook at its epicenter. “Y es tan beautiful,” he croons with an impeccable suaveness. 

As great as Cerati’s performance is, though, it can be surprising to find that much of the space on “Beautiful,” and in turn Bocanada, is given to the instrumentals. Cerati’s voice does not define the production so much as give it another layer to work upon, his notes at times riffing upon or harmonizing with the samples, and towards the back half of the record, his voice loses priority in the mix completely, many times being reduced to a whisper, a offbeat in a relentless stream of avant-garde electronics and chopped video game samples. So many sections of the songs on Bocanada are devoid of the Argentinian singer, playing themselves out and evolving without the need for a vocalist to orchestrate it all. The nuances of the songs become as entrancing as Cerati himself, which only makes the eventual entrance of his silky voice all the better. 

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