There’s no avoiding it — winter in the time of a global pandemic will be especially harsh.
Experts have been warning us for months to anticipate spikes in cases of Covid-19, and to avoid indoor gatherings due to the ease with which the coronavirus can spread during them. It’s almost too much to process, and winter hasn’t even arrived yet.
To help everyone channel whatever grief, boredom, longing or frustration they might be feeling right now — or just to give everyone a few mellow, musical minutes to enjoy amid the madness — The Story Exchange put together a playlist of our favorite down-tempo selections for your enjoyment. It’s a mix of old and new songs (as well as a few covers of classics), performed by both widely beloved artists and soon-to-be new favorites of yours.
So sit back, relax — preferably under a blanket with a cup of something hot and comforting — and press play.
1. “Winter Song” by Ingrid Michaelson & Sarah Bareilles
A sweet duet about doubt and longing, featuring two of the loveliest voices in indie-pop music. We recommend enjoying it while watching the music video, which is really more of an extremely charming animated miniature movie.
2. “If We Make It Through December” by Phoebe Bridgers
“If we make it through December, we’ll be fine.” It’s a lovely thought, anyway. Right now, Bridgers is having a “moment” — and is using it to make a difference, as well as some damn fine music. Proceeds from purchases of this cover of Merle Haggard’s song will be donated to Los Angeles’ Downtown Women’s Center.
3. “Josephine” by Brandi Carlile
This moody tune isn’t about a person, but rather, a place — Josephine County, Oregon. Carlile said it was inspired by the scenery she and songwriter Tim Hanseroth saw while driving through its mountains and past its rivers and lakes. Those of us living through the pandemic amid cityscapes can appreciate wanting to see such sights again.
4. “Take Care, New York” by Dan Mills
On a somewhat similar theme as “Josephine,” Mills sings about the need to get away from the bustling city and into wide open spaces full of soft breezes and views of the moon. If you’re able to indulge in a drive — or even a long walk — Mills’ music makes for a pitch-perfect traveling companion.
5. “River” by Joni Mitchell
Mitchell croons about the approach of Christmas in this famous tune, linking it forever to the holiday season. But its subject matter — regretting the loss of a lover — is timeless and universal, much like the song itself. If you need a good cry (we aren’t judging if so), here’s a solid place to start.
6. “Far Closer” by MJ Cole
This instrumental offering of lilting strings paired with soft piano is great for playing while you’re focusing as you work from home. It’s also a fantastic soundtrack to letting your mind wander as you take a (probably much-needed) break.
7. “Home” by CR and the Nones
You’ll be nodding your head from the moment you press “play,” as a strumming guitar and steady beat set the mood. You’ll keep it up once the plaintive lead vocals kick in, joined by tight harmonies soon after. It’s the perfect accompaniment for cooking yet another meal at home, or enjoying a glass of wine once clean-up is done.
8. “Something More” by Róisín Murphy
“I want something more,” sing a collection of strong voices in tight harmonies. Don’t we all? This song, at least, delivers on that desire, as textured backgrounds and a thrumming bass line join the party. We can’t go out on a Friday night, but this sets a, frankly, cool mood for a fun night at home.
9. “Glory Box” by Portishead
This low-key bop from the famous English electronic act has appeared in scores — forgive the term — of television shows and movies. Despite its decidedly sexy vibe, created in large part by bassy techno backgrounds and breathy vocals, it’s not a love song. Rather, it’s a call for sexual equality. Empowerment needn’t be catchy to catch on, but we suppose it doesn’t hurt.
10. “Something” by The Beatles
How bad can one possibly feel while listening to The Beatles? This classic love song will have you forgetting about the bad stuff, even if only for a few minutes, while you jam out to the familiar lyrics and fun melody, all performed by one of history’s greatest bands at one of their highest creative points. You can’t go wrong.
11. “Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy
This tune — a cover of the song made famous by Sting — is, simply put, a little bit of magic. Cassidy’s smooth-as-silk vocals and the imagery of a sun-soaked field full of wispy barley plants blowing in the wind leaves us feeling equal parts calm and wistful.
12. “Foreign Lander” by GQ
This Baltimore-based female singing quartet foregoes the more showy barbershop harmonies it’s known for to turn out a deep, rich performance on a folk song about loving and missing. The song builds as it goes, taking listeners on a sonic journey along with the song’s traveling protagonist.
13. “Hello” by Adele
It might actually be a crime to compile down-tempo mood music and omit a tune by one of the queens of the style. (We’ll check with our lawyers.) Nobody sings heartbreak like Adele — and few songs demand that you sing along with them quite like this one, either. The soaring chorus is perfect for belting out all of your frustrations.
14. “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane
This British band’s hit single has, like other entrants on this list, made its way into plenty of films and shows — you likely already know it from somewhere or other. Tom Chaplin’s booming tenor voice is full of melancholy as the band wails through his nostalgia: for a place, for a person, for a feeling, for whatever it is the listener might be searching for in that moment.
15. “Close To You” by The Carpenters
Karen Carpenter’s voice is perfection — on this, and on everything ever released by The Carpenters. (Editor’s Note: This writer might be biased.) Her soft, lilting alto voice glides perfectly through a gentle, simple love song. It’s perfect for a slow dance, or at least a smile, on a cold evening.
16. “Winter” by Tori Amos
Just as our list began with a winter song, so too shall it end. Amos sings about her memories of her father in this wispy, tinkering ballad — and who among us isn’t missing family and loved ones right now? This song will meet you where so many of us presently are.