And here it is: The Best Christmas Album of 2012. For the third year in a row, the fine folks at Flannelgraph Records have filled a basic need: to produce great new music for the holidays. These playful instrumentals provide a perfect way to offset the preponderance of cover tunes and saccharine melodies blasting from stores, radios and TVs at this time of year. And even better, all funds raised go to buy Christmas gifts for children staying with their mothers at Bloomington, Indiana’s domestic violence/rape crisis shelter Middle Way House. The two hour, 34-track download album (also available with a Christmas card/track listing for those who want a physical memento) is a way to say that life doesn’t have to be so rotten, the holidays don’t have to be so rotten, and holiday music doesn’t have to be so rotten, all at the same time.
Much of the music possesses a throwback vibe: surf guitars, ancient keyboards, silver bells. These tracks exude comfort and warmth. The picture-postcard America (that may never have existed in real life) finds its soundtrack here. Nothing here will cause pain. For the lost and lonely ~ the people for whom Christmas originally took place ~ such a collection is a panacea. The best artist-title combo (and a darn good song to boot) is Mike Adams at His Honest Weight’s track “Waiting For My Son On Christmas Eve”. There’s a lot of truth in those words, a hopeful and poignant holiday experience. Everybody’s waiting for someone to come home. But perhaps the truth isn’t entirely found in the titles; “XXXMas” isn’t such a wonderful title, to say nothing of Track 27 (look it up, I’m not printing it!). But it’s all in good fun, which is what is needed in the midst of all the world’s anxiety and stress. This album is a small, good thing, a way to light whatever little corner of the world gives it room.
As expected, there are a few standout cuts, although it’s important to note that every track here is at least decent, which in terms of a large compilation is pretty much a Christmas miracle. After half a dozen spins, I’m still playing it all the way through. So nobody gets coal in their stocking, but a few artists get eggnog and candy canes. For me, the tracks that keep making me put down the pen, the book or the ornament are Funeral Home’s “Oksana and the Blacksmith”, a brief post-rock inflected piece that features bells, brass and a bass drum; Soporus’ tender guitar-and-glockenspiel “Gävle Goat” (which refers to a giant Swedish goat, made out of straw, that ends up being burned by vandals nearly every year; see Wikipedia for a really funny entry); the fuzzy drones of Thee Tsunami’s “Happy AlcoHolidaze”, which accurately reflect the title; and quixod’s vast “Drip On You Melting Icicle”, a textured post-rock piece in the Do Make Say Think vein that at is 8:06 is the longest track here and worth every minute. You’ll have your own favorites too, but that’s not the important message being delivered here. That message is: the holidays don’t have to be so rotten. Thank you, Flannelgraph. (Richard Allen)