There is an ideal “first snow.” It should be warm enough outside that the flakes cling only to cold, flat things like roof shingles and car tops. Light jacket, beanie, scarf (more for fashion than necessity), boots that don’t need to be waterproofed. The snow should be falling lightly and lazily, straight down like a spider on a vertical strand of web. The sky should be a grey enough to filter the sunlight without muting the colors of the leaves still hugging skeletal trees and lacing the sidewalks. It’s too bright to look directly up on these kinds of days; the sun diffuses into the haze like blood in water until it paints every corner of the sky. But it isn’t sunny. I can’t stress that enough.
When I find myself outside in the perfect first snow, I can only think of one song to soundtrack the weather: “O Tenenbaum,” performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, as seen on A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though I can’t listen to it for an entire season, it’s the template sound of the first snowfall.
There’s an essential whimsical quality to snowfall. Maybe its gentle aerial spin opens the holiday chamber in us, and fills us with warm pangs of missing our family. The soundtrack of the first snow should be able to bear this quality, and should feel like it’s trickling down from the sky with the snow. Jazz is good for this.
But there’s also a gritty aspect to snowfall. The slush that aggregates just hours after the first blanket. The way a flake warmly expands before dissolving on your sleeve. The crunch of salted sidewalks under your feet. Some jazz, the kind of smooth jazz that 106.3 the Panda in Daddy’s Home would broadcast, is not the kind of music you need to accompany a long gaze through your window at the soft swirl outside; smooth jazz is a vessel too fragile to hold snow’s ethos.
The perfect sound for this has ribs. It’s fuller. It has an underbelly that can hold the sadness of snow, both personal and universal, like realizing the homeless have to cope outside, or feeling down for no reason.
What you need, we propose, are songs that claim jazz as an influence, but add an essential grittiness and hard lines.
Here are songs we offer to observe the first snow. May you diffuse into the content of this moment.
- New York Editor - Amon Tobin
- Rebirth of Slick - Digable Planets
- Descent into Madness (ft. Thundercat) - Flying Lotus
- Suicide Demo for Kara Walker - Destroyer
- Deacon Blues - Steely Dan
- Pancakes - Marvin Pontiac
- Laughter Is The Best Medicine - Cass McCombs
- Avenue Of Hope - I Am Kloot
- Neptune Estate - King Krule
- Playground Love (ft. Gordon Tracks) - Air
- Sipping on the Sweet Nectar - Jens Lekman
- Door of the Cosmos - Sun Ra
- Bleak City Woman - Donovan (Not on Apple)
- Life In a Glasshouse - Radiohead