if you’re not in love with the christmas songs that are just too sad to sing

So after my terror at seeing someone has changed my laptop  background to a photo of Lady Gaga wearing a dress made of Kermit dolls (thanks, Josh, and also, at least she is wearing something), I decided that I’m not in the mood to post anything too serious, and it is a good night to post about more Christmas music that you will most certainly LOVE even if you are a complete Scrooge!  Even if it isn’t as serious as Evening Hymns, which I promise I will write about soon (my promises mean very little, sorry), you will SERIOUSLY love it.  Mwahaha I’m amusing.

Eric and I have somewhat different Christmas music sentiments, but when it all comes down to it, I think we both agree that in general, Christmas music is so completely different from what we normally listen to, and what we ever really want to listen to, that what’s the point of listening to it?  If Christmas music is going to suck, I don’t care if it’s about Christmas and I love Christmas, I’m not subjecting myself to it.  Mariah Carey & Bing Crosby don’t count.  Anyway, but then he and I both found some fabulous Christmas albums that sound like the kind of music we already really like to listen to but they are about Christmas and also they are kind of funny, so, hurray!  Here’s another album for you to purchase and obsessively listen to all the way through Christmas!

A Very Cherry Christmas v. 5 (thanks, Cherryade!), although perhaps a bit irreverent at times, is the most fun and clever Christmas album I’ve ever heard.  It includes artists I’ve never even heard of which is awesome, as well as The School, Das Wanderlust, Foxes!, Shrieking Violets, etc.  Thankfully, it isn’t overproduced; on the contrary, some of it sounds like the musicians had some wine and decided to record something seasonal, and to be honest, that kind of music is quite alright with me.  Whatever indie leanings you have, A Very Cherry Christmas accommodates.  My personal fave is twee, more affectionately known to me as “tweeeeeeeeeeee!” so I very much enjoy “Let Me Be the Fairy,” “What the Hell,” and “The Escape From Aled Jones.”  But no worries, there’s something for everyone…folk, punkish, electronic, cathartic, and just plain weird.  I swear I hear ukelele on more than one song on this album, and the recurring oompah theme, the bells, and the occasional choir backing makes everything feel so seasonally amusing that I don’t even want to scream when I hear it.  There is even a poem and a story/interview.  They are gems, let me tell you.

Here is another thing I love about this album: it says what we are all thinking.  It’s a bit irreverent, yes, but Christmas as a whole has become a little more than a bit irreverent, so I pretty much really enjoy the precious love songs, the sad lonely break-up songs (go ahead, tell Santa your problems), the songs about the magical qualities of snow and the lameness of mistletoe, and the songs about having to spend time with family you don’t like.  Thankfully, I like my family, but still.  I love Christmas and Christmas lights and making cookies and buying presents for people…but still.  This is clever and cynical, so I like it.  Also, I’m not sure how to bring it up, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex song is awesome.

So, thanks, I guess, for saying what we’re all thinking.  We all want someone to pull crackers with, and we want to do it to music that doesn’t suck.  Garrett, if I could get you anything for Christmas, I would get the Academy to give you an Oscar for your movie ideas because even though you haven’t built a single set, I know it’s my favorite movie yet.  And can we spend our first Christmas in space?  And Christmas involves a lot of drinking.  I learned this in London, and so these songs are pretty relevant.  Why deny it?  Happy Christmas, everyone.  Check it out on iTunes–the tracks are a bit switched up, but you’ll figure it out.  And read more here.

A Switched On Christmas Spectacular

I love Christmas. What’s not to love (even though the fact that half the world celebrates it in the summer kinda freaks me out)? It’s the month leading up to it that I’m not so keen on. Sure, December has its good points, like Starbucks red holiday cups and the incomparable scent of winter (again, with the exception of that freakshow Southern Hemisphere). But, let’s face it, December comes with a lot of crap, too, like traffic, huge crowds, and the incomparable cold of winter (except for you know who). By far, however, the worst facet of the Christmas season is the music. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas music. What I absolutely hate is the effect it has on musicians, namely the “I’m bored, let’s make a Christmas album” attitude. Cases in point: Newsong’s “The Christmas Shoes” and Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album.

No, it’s been a decade since I’ve come across a Christmas album that delivers consistently from start to finish (it was BEC Records’ Happy Christmas volume 1, feat. a young Switchfoot, Starflyer 59, and Five Iron Frenzy, among others). This year, thankfully, has been different. There are a number of promising collections circulating right now. Here are two of them.

The Cardiff-based Bubblewrap Collective has put out a collection that is in some shops this week and ought to be for sale at Rough Trade in London sometime next week. The concept is quite clever, I must say. Twelve artists were given 31 days to write and record a song based on one of the twelve days of Christmas. The result is a varied landscape of often lo-fi, stripped-down indie goodness where ukuleles and glockenspiels (and everything else, really) flourish with an impressive line-up including: The School, Little My, Allo Darlin’, and The Bobby McGees.

Our old friends and Indie Handbook favourites, The School (who are included on a couple of other Christmas comps this season which, if we can get our hands on copies, we will also review for you) have the twelfth day (for those who, like me, don’t have the attention span to make it through the entire song, that’s drummers drumming). And they execute their share of the festivities brilliantly with the handclappy C86 ditty “Drummer Boy”. Brontosaurus Chorus, on “Calling Birds” (that’s the fourth day), manage to pull off what may be the single greatest line in the history of Christmas music: “Christmas is a time for excessive drinking”.

On the lighter side are “Five Golden Rings from the Hi 5 Kings” by The Rocky Nest (including a heartbreaking muted trumpet refrain between otherworldly vocal performances) and Allo Darlin’ with the ukulele-laden “Silver Swans in NYC”. Then there’s the relentlessly charming “Lords Keep Leaping” by Silence at Sea, complete with injected sound effects. I’m going to have to stop myself there, because I’ve got another album to talk about. You’ll just have to check out the other seven days on your own.

Venus Hum’s Switched on Christmas EP (get it here for free) is something completely different from the 12 Days compilation. Rather than a set of entirely new songs, Venus Hum have embraced the spirit of reinterpretation championed by artists like Wendy (née Walter) Carlos on such albums as Switched on Bach and Switched on Brandenburgs. (Once upon a time, the traditionalist in me cringed at the thought of such an atrocity. The post-structuralist in me has since destroyed that aesthetic neophyte.)

Certain tracks on this EP, like “Suzy Snowflake” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” translate naturally into such an electrified idiom. Even before listening, the concept is a welcome change. Ballads like “Silver Bells” also sync easily with the band’s dreamy electropop aesthetic, as a sort of hybrid of their first two albums (though it’s more Big Beautiful Sky than The Colors In the Wheel). On the opener, “Let It Snow”, Annette Strean’s vocals have been assimilated into the network and “switched on” along with a seemingly endless array of computers, synths, and processors to dazzling and (aurally) sparkling effect.

Going in, however, I had my doubts about how even one of my all-time favorite bands would adapt two of my favorite seasonal numbers. There is, of course, the classic “The Christmas Song”, penned by Mel Tormé, immortalized by Nat “King” Cole, here given a tastefully switched on treatment, with a bit of ambient crackling tacked on in the opening for good measure. In the cases of electro-programming wizards Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle, it is their sensitivity and, more importantly, ability to hold back that render “The Christmas Song” not only passable, but one of two “must hear” tracks on the EP. The other being “Silent Night”.

Now, about that “Silent Night”. It’s come a long way since Christmas Eve of 1818 and the debut performance (for voice and guitar) at Nikolaus-Kirche in Oberndorf, Austria. But it’s still one of those songs I prefer un-fooled-around with. Sometimes (ok, oftentimes) it’s easy to question if all of the “progress” we as human beings have made in the last 191 years, has really left us any better off or if we’ve regressed, and those really were the “good old days”. Maybe we really have sucked the world dry of all the beautiful things. Venus Hum’s take on this, perhaps quintessential, musical rendering of the birth of Christ is humbly trippy and sufficiently glitchy (just like we are), but the sound of Annette’s voice floating just over top of it leaves me with the sense (and hope) that there just may be some goodness left in the world.

Sleep in Heavenly peace”? Yes, thank you. I believe I shall.