16 Albums to Make You Feel Warmer in the Dead of Winter

Forget those frigid temperatures with these records that evoke warmer weather

Updated January 26, 2022 9:18 am
warm music playlist
Mike Falco

You don’t need us to tell you that this time of year can be unbearably cold and depressing. We all have our own ways of coping with the harshest part of winter, whether it’s a spiked hot chocolate or a hot toddy to lift our spirits and warm our bellies, a nice warm bath or just doing our best to convince ourselves that it’s not actually that bad. For some of us, however, the best way to beat the winter blues is to put on some tunes that evoke warmer climates and imagine we’re on a beach instead of in the frozen tundra we find ourselves in.

There are some artists whose music just sounds warm, no matter what season it’s released. Certain sounds just have a tendency to conjure up memories of hot sun, cold drinks and the kind of carefree relaxation none of us have really had a chance to experience since 2019. And that goes for much more than stuff like the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” or Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.” With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the albums that make us feel warm; some are more overtly summery than others, and they span a variety of genres, but they all make things feel a little sunnier. Give them a spin, and trick your body into forgetting your toes are numb.

Adron, Organismo

The second album from Atlanta indie singer-songwriter Adron sees her leaning hard into a Tropicália influence, making it a perfect choice for when you’re yearning for warmer climates. It kicks off with the laidback and aptly named “Paradise Island Tropical Vacation,” complete with a whistled intro and a plea: “Don’t fuck up my island.” But then, a quick, confident reassurance that nothing can destroy these vibes, as she sings, “You cannot do it, no matter how you try.” So next time you’re shivering on your walk home, just imagine you’re clutching a mai tai on vacation and remind yourself that nothing — even the cold — can fuck up your island. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Warmest track: “Paradise Island Tropical Vacation”

Drop Nineteens, Delaware

It’s cold as hell but still walkable out in New York, but you need some good jams to keep you warm on a jaunt. For these outings I still find shoegaze to be the best soundtrack, and Drop Nineteens’ cult classic Delaware is a perfect record for reflecting out in the cold. The band’s riffs really take you to a different world, with “Kick the Tragedy” feeling like a true winter fantasyland of distortion and beauty. The intertwining of singers Greg Ackell and Paula Kelley will recall all your sweet teenage memories and moments, with some perfectly dreamy songwriting wrapping things up neatly. — John Hill

Warmest track: “Kick the Tragedy”

MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

Like any teen in 2014 (I’ll wait for the gasp) my music taste was very “Tumblr Alternative/Pop” as I like to classify it. We’re talking The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, Marina and the Diamonds, MGMT, etc. I’m sure someone somewhere has written a dissertation on this genre and its association with the once-popular blogging site, but if you’re familiar with the era, you get it. I still occasionally listen to all of these artists, but MGMT’s alt-rock/synth pop Oracular Spectacular has remained on my summer/beach playlist since I discovered it all those years ago. The 2007 debut album from the indie-rock duo has been dubbed a “timeless wonder,” one that encapsulates the “euphoric sense of nostalgia for things that hadn’t necessarily happened with very real thoughts and feelings about being young, being human.” I don’t know much about music, but I know the album’s hits like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” remind me of carefree summer house parties, sneakily sipping Twisted Teas on New Jersey beaches in high school, jubilant, drug-infused festivals and driving to the shore with friends in a packed car. So putting it on in the depths of winter takes me back to sunnier days while stoking anticipation for the hot weather ahead. I’m naming “Electric Feel” the warmest track, not only for its obvious feel-good vibes but for the iconic video of rapper Kid Cudi dancing onstage to it, red Solo cup in hand, at Coachella — a forever summer mood. — Logan Mahan

Warmest track: “Electric Feel”

Fucked Up, Coke Sucks. Drink Pepsi.

The live album by this ambitious Canadian hardcore band captures the mood of every summer punk concert I’ve ever attended: It’s loud and the mix is completely blown out, but overall the vibe is sweaty fun. The best sing-along here — well, besides “Crusades” — arrives via “I Hate Summer,” a seasonal anthem by FU frontman (and large/sweaty dude) Damian Abraham that affectionately rips into the grossest and warmest of seasons. — Kirk Miller

Warmest track: “I Hate Summer”

Allah-Las, Allah-Las

Allah-Las was formed in 2008, but the vibe of their self-titled LP immediately transports you to the 1960s of the quartet’s native Los Angeles. A nostalgic dose of breezy throwback California surf rock, Allah-Las’ tunes are chock full of jangly guitars, old-school mid-tempo pop arrangements and lo-fi production, conjuring images of salt-washed wave riders and barefoot hippies wandering Malibu beaches in search of a bonfire by which to smoke a joint and pontificate about life and love. — Danny Agnew

Warmest track: “Catamaran”

Prince, Prince

Prince’s self-titled second studio album kicks off with, for my money, the most infectiously danceable song ever made: “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Dripping with the delicious funk riffs and heavy-handed sexual imagery with which The Purple One would become synonymous over the next 30-plus years, the track wastes absolutely no time getting to its point: We’re here to fuck or dance. Take your pick. The second the needle hits the black, a snappy kick drum and elastic bassline peal out in tandem, and lyrics that could probably still make every mother in America blush arrive soon after (I wanna be your lover / I wanna turn you on, turn you out / All night long, make you shout / Oh, lover, yeah / I wanna be the only one you come for). It’s more of the same on tracks 2 and 3 (“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “Sexy Dancer”), before a pair of slow-burners — “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow” and “With You” — mercifully provide an interlude. The back half of the album never quite hits the highs of the note-perfect three-song intro, but it doesn’t need to. Playing those three tracks on repeat is the sonic equivalent of a high-wattage mood lamp. Next time you catch a case of the January doldrums, you know where to find the remedy. — Walker Loetscher

Warmest track: “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

Tennis, Cape Dory

When husband-and-wife indie pop duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley released their debut album in 2011, it was this time of year — almost 10 years ago to the date, as a matter of fact. Mid-January may seem like a weird time to release an album that was inspired by a sailing trip, but in a lot of ways, it was perfect. Cape Dory came just when we needed it, offering us an escape from the bleak winter months. When Moore sings of “crystalline water with manta ray shine” on the dreamy “Take Me Somewhere,” it’s easy to relate to her desire to go somewhere — anywhere — that isn’t freezing cold, and even though we can’t get there physically, her warm vocals paint a picture. —Bonnie Stiernberg

Warmest track: “Take Me Somewhere”

Kero Kero Bonito, Bonito Generation

Through no fault of our own, the shitty weather in January inevitably brings us all down a peg mood-wise. Any time I find myself slipping into one of these bummer trips I throw on Kero Kero Bonito’s record Bonito Generation. The UK trio make pop music that’s posi to a fault, and this is maybe one of the most sugary records ever written, with songs like “Break” that are about chilling out — no more, no less. Other songs, like “Trampoline,” are just about how sick trampolines are. Seriously. Makes you question why ever listen to music any more complicated than that.  — John Hill

Warmest track: “Break”

Roy Ayers, Everybody Loves the Sunshine

The 1976 album by funk/soul artist Roy Ayers brings summertime vibes — courtesy of all manner of synths, electric piano and, yes, vibraphone — that are unmistakable but also wholly unique in their use case. Built on sparse, decidedly laid-back grooves, it’s not exactly the kind of album you’re going to sing along to with a group of drunk friends while pounding White Claws at a backyard BBQ or whatever. But the next morning? After you’ve pounded all the White Claws and done god knows what else, and you’re walking to the nearest bodega or Dunkin to get coffee and a breakfast sandwich, the already-hot sun helping you to sweat out the most egregious of your evening’s drunken transgressions, it’s just dizzying enough to work great. It’s not disorienting, exactly, but perfect for the already disoriented. — Mike Conklin

Warmest Track: “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

When I turn on this mixtape, I immediately go back to the summer of 2013. I used to listen to it in the morning on my commute from Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach where I worked at a bar on the boardwalk. Drawing on inspiration from soul, jazz, indie rock and house music, Acid Rap encapsulates summer in the city. Some tracks (“Coco Butter Kisses,” “Favorite Song”) are carefree and nostalgic, an amalgamation of summer love, LSD and Orange Nickelodeon VHS tapes. Other tracks (“Paranoia,” “Acid Rain”) can be dark and foreboding, touching on the violence that plagues the inner city when the temperature rises. Like summer there’s a delicate balance between the best of times and worst of times; the weather is hot, and the possibilities are endless. No matter where this weird and sprawling trip takes you, it always feels like you’re welcome along for the ride. — Mike Falco

Warmest track: “Favorite Song”

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Love Has Come for You

The initial banjo plucks from Steve Martin on the opening track “When You Get to Asheville” are the sonic equivalent of the summer sun rising golden into a blue sky while sipping your morning coffee as dew evaporates on your porch. Go ahead, close your eyes, click play and imagine it. I’ll admit there’s something inherently warm about that instrument, but what makes Martin’s first album with Edie Brickell act as a conduit for past and future summer days is the latter’s lyrics, and her Texas-tinged way of conveying them. Town dances, summer love, stray dogs — even if that doesn’t describe the kind of July days you dream about while tucked into your flannel sheets, that won’t stop this album from transporting you there. — Alex Lauer

Warmest track: “Sun’s Gonna Shine”

Tame Impala, Innerspeaker

Before Kevin Parker’s band became a headline act driven by carefully calibrated synth loops and festival-friendly hooks, they were a much more guitar-centric outfit whose music heavily referenced the early days of psychedelic rock, a trait only amplified by Parker’s uncanny vocal resemblance to one John Lennon. Innerspeaker, their debut full-length album, came out in May 2010, when I was working on the greens staff at a local golf course. It was the perfect soundtrack for toiling away under the dry heat of a Rocky Mountain sun in July, with its fuzzy guitar licks layered almost haphazardly over a melange of drums, bass and whatever weird effects Parker felt like coaxing out of his pedals and knobs on a given recording day (days which took place, it bears noting, in a beach shanty on Australia’s West Coast called the Wave House). Even on days when I wasn’t stoned, this album tricked me into thinking I was, and those sundrenched vibes remain intact to this day. — Walker Loetscher

Warmest track: “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”

Washed Out, Life of Leisure

Shit, even the name of this 2009 EP conjures a chillaxing beach session, and that’s before you a) see the Instagram filter-y cover art featuring a young lady lounging in balmy ocean waters (a photo taken by Washed Out’s Ernest Weatherly Green Jr. of his wife on their honeymoon), and b) get an aural dose of Greene’s synthy chillwave chops and mellow vocal styling, virtually guaranteed to cause a lowering of the eyelids, hypnotic head nodding, and daydreams of, well, lounging with your partner in balmy ocean waters. — Danny Agnew

Warmest track: “Feel It All Around”

Angel Du$t, Pretty Buff

The last really good time I can remember was probably summer of 2019, which was a season very much soundtracked by the latest Angel Du$t LP, Pretty Buff. The LA-Baltimore crew play rock music at its most upbeat, to the extent that much of their output sounds like it would work as the intro for a sitcom. But play “Bang My Drum” or “Big Ass Love” enough and you’ll soon find the punk-tinged fun totally stuck in your head, counting the days before you can go see dogs in the park with your friends at a picnic again. — John Hill

Warmest track: “Big Ass Love”

Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city

The last thing the internet needs is another white boy from [checks birth certificate] Vail, Colorado, writing 2,000 words about the historical context and musical forebears that set the stage for one of the most significant hip-hop records of the last two decades, so I’ll keep this brief. Good kid, m.A.A.d. city is, as I understand it, a dual paean to a time (Lamar’s adolescence) and a place (his hometown of Compton). Lamar’s memory of those two things is fraught with trauma and oppression, but beneath it all, there is a sheen of hazy nostalgia for the reckless, virginal innocence of his youth. I have not survived gang violence or drug wars; I did not grow up surrounded by extreme poverty; I do not know firsthand what it means to be oppressed. But I have been young, and I know what it means to look back with rose-tinted glasses on a time and place that, at least in the fickle confines of memory, feels like a thing you wish you could go back to. And when it’s freezing fucking cold out, that’s also how I tend to think of summer. Ergo, this album — with its soulful production and clever storytelling, all set in a city where palm trees grow tall and the sun is always shining — brings with it a sense of longing for the warmer, longer days of my youth. — Walker Loetscher

Warmest track: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”

Phoenix, Ti Amo

I’ve never experienced Italy in the summer (or Italy at all, for that matter) but for some reason Phoenix’s album Ti Amo evokes a feeling I imagine as similar to that of a sticky day spent lazing in the Italian sun. This feeling likely has something to do with the album’s Italian title and use of the language in songs throughout, most notably “Fior de Latte” which refers to the purest form of gelato, sweetened heavy cream with no added flavor. The soft-pop songs have a sweetness to them that makes listening a treat, a decadent experience, like that of tucking into a bowl of fior de latte). In “Telefono” the Italian beach town of Passoscuro, where Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was filmed, is directly mentioned, as the narrator finds himself there alone, calling his distant lover (Sofia Coppola, maybe?) and attempting, with little success, to make plans for their summer. The melancholy and longing in the narrator’s voice conjure memories of bittersweet summer days, where the future remains uncertain yet the possibilities endless, and that feeling distinct to summer of never wanting the season to end but knowing it will. — Lee Cutlip

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