Serenity Now: 2013’s Most Soothing Records to Get You Through the Holidays

Just before Christmas last year, we published a list of 2012’s most soothing and relaxing records to get you through the most “wonderful” time of the year. We’re revisiting the idea this year and extending it to the holiday season as a whole, because really, apart from the consolations of eating hideous amounts of turkey and having an excuse to watch Bad Santa again, the “festive” season brings only angst and potential penury. And the potential of your drunk uncle making an ass of himself again. If this all sounds familiar, slip away and put one or more of these records on your headphones, curl into a ball, and it’ll be January before you know it.

Various Artists — SMM: Opiate

This is far and away my favorite compilation of the year, a carefully curated selection of songs that proceeds downward through layers of sound into almost complete stillness, then gently returns you to the world. It’s the second in Ghostly Records’ semi-regular SMM series — the first, released in 2011, is worth hearing too.

Julia Holter — Loud City Song

It has its raucous moments, but as a whole, Holter’s marvelous record is a pleasantly immersive and calming listening experience (especially the long, languid cover of Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger” that forms the album’s centerpiece).

Julianna Barwick — Nepenthe

Honestly, if you want transportive otherworldly music, you can’t really go wrong with Julianna Barwick. Nepenthe takes its name from a mythical Ancient Greek medicine for sorrow — a sort of preterite Prozac, basically — and it’s an appropriate name for an album that can most definitely chase the holiday blues away.

Tim Hecker — Virgins

Also on the entirely immersive front: the new Tim Hecker record, which is beautiful abstract electronic music that’s just made for extended headphone listening. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this record is how it manages to evoke a real sense of warmth and emotion from its strange, artificial textures — it has a stark, austere beauty that’s remarkable for an album that includes tracks with titles like “Incense at Abu Ghraib” and “Stab Variation.”

Molly Drake — Molly Drake

As in, yes, Nick Drake’s mother. These recordings date back to the 1950s and 1960s, and while some have been available in one form or another for a while, this year they were released as a collection for the first time. The first thing you notice about them is how they’re characterized by the same air of melancholy that made Nick Drake’s work so compelling, but they also have a charm all their own.

Eluvium — Nightmare Ending

If the relatives are really giving you the shits, it might be time to immerse yourself in this epic double record, which will give you a whopping 84 minutes of serenity. Its tracks are long and expansive, unfolding at a stately pace that gives their melodies plenty of time to breath and evolve. As a whole, the album really does sound like its title: the sort of wash of happiness and relief you get when you realize the crazy awful dream you just woke from wasn’t real at all.

Boards of Canada — Tomorrow’s Harvest

The hype around the promo campaign for this comeback record by the most unlikely buzzband of the year rather overshadowed the fact that the record in question was really rather excellent — it’s probably the best thing Boards of Canada have done since Music Has the Right to Children.

Grouper — The Man Who Died in His Boat

These songs date from the Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill sessions, and as a result this is basically like listening to part two of that album. Clearly, this is no bad thing.

William Basinski — Nocturnes

Two tracks, 70 minutes… yep, this is a Basinski release, all right. As its name suggests, there’s a certain darkness to Nocturnes — especially the title track, which stretches for 40 minutes and is all faintly portentous, echo-laden piano. It sounds like being awake at 4am on a cold winter’s night, when there’s ice on the window and your breath is misting and everything feels not quite real… but also somehow magical and thrilling.

Mazzy Star — Seasons of Your Day

And finally, the new Mazzy Star. If Hope Sandoval’s voice can’t soothe your holiday-season angst, then next year it might just be best to jet off to somewhere sunny and dodge the “festive” season entirely. God knows we would be if we didn’t have to work.