I think it started with Run-D.M.C., this love I have for Christmas songs that are well-beyond traditional and full of beats, blips, and drum tracks. Run-D.M.C. laid down “Christmas in Hollis” on that very first A Very Special Christmas, and I was hooked by the rap, beatboxing, scratching, and streetwise holiday story.
Christmas seems to have a long tradition now of popular music, novelty songs, and many artists trying to put their unique stamp on a handful of staple songs. So when a collection like I’ll Stay ‘Til After Christmas comes along with beats, blips, and warps, I’m primed for the Christmas cheer—of sorts.
Produced by Force Field PR’s Daniel Gill as a project to raise money for Amnesty International, it’s a gathering of melancholic friends vamping on old songs and writing new blue Christmas tunes. As in Gill’s vision, it’s not the cheery, paint-everything-over-with-a-false-joy-gloss kind of Christmas album; it’s a very realistic Christmas. Which makes it even more fascinating and comforting.
Bosque Brown’s “Silent Night” is an airy, whispery vocal like something recorded in Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) hunting cabin in the middle of a Wisconsin winter. It’s haunting, lonely, and has more urgency about waiting for the Messiah than I often hear in recordings of this hymn. Couple that with “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by the pApercuts, a organ warble with an indie rock club beat, and you have some traditional church tunes that make you think again about the complex intensity of the season.
My Brightest Diamond choose to cover a Nat King Cole tune—but not the Christmas song you’d think. Instead, they take “Nature Boy,” celebrating the solstice with an ethereal magic. It’s as if they were writing music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a musical produced by Disney in the vein of the scary carnival scene from Pinocchio. Such attention to the song at this time of the year makes me think that the lyric could apply to Jesus, especially in the confusion many had about Him (“There was a boy/A very strange enchanted boy”) but also in His message (“The greatest thing/You’ll ever learn/Is just to love/And be loved in return”).
The lyric of Figurine’s “The Holidays Behind Us” gives us the album title. Deadpan vocals are backed up with Decomposure-like electronic, the beats like the party that is happening around you while she’s really leaving you as soon as Christmas is over.
Le Loup gives us “Shenandoah.” I think they perhaps simply discovered a group of monks deep inside the echoing chambers of a monastery. With the crows cawing outside, they’re taking their traditional leanings in the style of Sufjan Stevens to create a beautifully poignant song.
In a lyric that pieces together snippets of past Christmas memories, Blitzen Trapper offers the melancholic acoustic “Christmas is Coming Soon.” The Paul Brill-like “Another Winter in a Summer Town” sounds exactly like the closed for the season scene at your nearest resort area.
The short punch of Man of Arms’ “It’s Christmas Time and Everything’s wrong” is perhaps the most blunt realistic Christmas sentiment here, and it properly sends us to another realistic Christmas offering from Glasvegas.
Glasvegas: A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss)
The foreboding snippet of “Christmas Time is Here” that makes up the first track, “Careful What You Wish For,” sets you up to realize that Glasvegas aren’t here to necessarily just ring in the season with great joy. Of course, you don’t have to hear the first track to realize that; you just have to see the second track’s title which I can’t even fully type here (“F*&% You, It’s Over”).
Much like Figurine’s “The Holidays Behind Us” in its realization that many relationships that headed for an end hang on through the holidays to save face or whatever. In the Glasvegas song, though, there’s no putting up a good front until December 26 or January 2. Instead, in James Allan’s brogue shout and a Britrock wash, it’s just over; there’s no present for you under the tree; there’s no pretending just to make the holiday parties less awkward. Ah, the realism!
Recorded mainly in a Transylvanian church, it has a haunting lilt to the Scottish band’s U2-like air (as if calling on some of that same wash of fog and sound that U2 found at Slane Castle for An Unforgettable Fire where the piano often led the song foundations). It ends with an incredible version of “Silent Night.” James Allan’s aching take on the song over solo piano is followed up by Romania’s Concentus Choir singing the hymn in Romanian (“Noapte de Vis”). Pristine.
Force Field PR
I’ll Stay ‘Til After Christmas available at Amazon (also available on iTunes)