Over a thousand Christmas singles, EPs and albums were released this season on Bandcamp alone. Here at A Closer Listen, we’ve received a few winners, and are happy to share them with you today: a Christmas mix from Fluid Audio, seven EPs, one album and a double comp from Silber Records and new sets from Guion Pratt and the appropriately named Julian Winter.
Most of us have a few Christmas songs that we love to hear each season, and a whole bunch that have worn out their welcome. Over time, some releases become classics, the most recent including Low‘s Christmas EP and Sufjan Stevens‘ Songs for Christmas. We also recommend iLiKETRAiNS’ The Christmas Tree Ship EP, Flannelgraph’s multi-volume The Holidays Don’t Have to Be So Rotten, and the Vince Guaraldi Trio‘s score to A Charlie Brown Christmas. There’s no telling what will become a classic; only time will reveal this secret. But some releases stand out, even at first listen.
The mood of Christmas can vary, as the releases below demonstrate. To some, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, while to others, it’s the peak of depression. It’s good to have all types of music on hand. Certain Christmas classics zero in on the melancholy (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, “Coventry Carol”), while others possess a stark, restrained beauty (“In the Bleak Midwinter”). But there’s nothing like new music when the old has been wrung out. We hope that you will find something here to fit your mood, and perhaps to lift your spirits. Merry Christmas to all!
Guion Pratt‘s Drone for the Holidays was sparked by the birth of a child to friends ~ a reminder of hope and beauty in the midst of anxiety and chaos. Pratt writes, “For most people, holiday music has a hard expiration date each season. For others, the concept of holiday music is just too loaded to connect with at all. Or maybe you just need to get out of your head about writing songs with words for a bit and learn to trust sounds again. Wherever you’re coming from, it’s been a tough year. The hope is that you’ll be able to make use of these pieces to access a bit of the warmth usually associated with holiday music throughout the rest of the cold months.” The music follows suit, with layers of guitar and low whistle on two tracks and layers of choir on the third. We really like “Carol for Twelve Congregations”, which captures awe and disruption all at once; we do wonder if the original choir has heard the new version, and if so, what they think of it! And the 20-minute “Driving 30 mph on the Interstate in a Blizzard” offers an all-too-familiar holiday image, albeit a safe one as it’s an aural reflection; still, one wonders how this would sound if one were actually stuck in such an event, as many from the Rockies to the Midwest may experience this week.
Fluid Audio gets into the action in a big way with a Christmas playlist called Born on Christmas Day. This nearly three-hour mix contains songs from loads of 2018 releases, including music from Jason van Wyk, Ben Chatwin, Humble Bee, Marconi Union, Antonymes, Peter Jørgensen, Tape Loop Orchestra, Cameron Day, Dalot & Sound Awakener, Giuseppe Cordaro, James Murray, Kirill Mazhai, Moss Covered Technology and The Seaman & The Tattered Sail. The suggestion is that one listen with headphones, but if you’re at your family celebration we really don’t recommend this ~ better to just let it play, and be surrounded by beauty. We all need a little calm (for some a lot of calm) during our family gatherings, and the music of this label may just be enough to save Christmas. It’s as peaceful as “Silent Night”, and everything here is new as a baby King.
Want something trip-hoppy and upbeat for Christmas? We recommend playing segments of Julian Winter‘s Cutting Rooms, which blends found instruments such as kitchen utensils with traditional instrumentation, old film samples and an ebullient vibe. We’re quite into the opening track, “I Lied to You in the Car”, although it’s not really a Christmas piece; that honor is saved for “Weihnacht” and this writer’s favorite track (for obvious reasons), “Joyeux Noël Monsieur Richard”. Granted, the Malcolm X-inflected “Journey” is not for rocking around the Christmas tree, but the album was not originally conceived as a Christmas set; the timing just happens to be fortuitous. Add “Dilettante” and “Early Evening” (with their sounds of travel) to your Christmas playlist, however, and you’ll be happy.
Silber Records has gone all-out this year, with a cavalcade of Christmas and winter-themed releases. We went straight to Nonconnah‘s Winter EP ’17 to start, because we were already familiar with their previous seasonal set as well as their parent band, Lost Trail. The EP reflects a season in suspension, drawing a line from the fallen leaves to the snow, separating the piano notes like flakes. A sense of distancing envelops these tracks, as if removed from the gaudy segment of festivities. There is deep contemplation to be found here, and sullen, rusted beauty. It’s easily the best of the ten releases.
The loops of Hyborean Echoes form A Yule Offering, filled with mulched bells and a sample of ravens. The ten-minute closer, “Snowfall”, is the go-to track, offering light undulations along its way. The 19th (!) Yellow6 Christmas release, Running to the Red [merry6mas2017] contains a series of drones with at least one positive political message: “we should be building bridges not walls.” While that piece is the album’s highlight, the entire set is relaxing in an Old West fashion.
Electric Bird Noise offers a somewhat unsettling take on the holiday with nam wen eht fo htrib, a single 21-minute track “made for creepy art galleries.” We’re not really sure how it snuck onto the Silber Christmas roster, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. You probably shouldn’t play it for your relatives. Baptizer‘s synth-based drone EP Crisis of the Modern World is even more foreboding, but with a point: the failure of religion to save us from the current age, and the thought of the apocalypse as a “Prelude to the Return of the King.”
Some of the releases are vocal, but we list them here for your holiday pleasure. Lullabier‘s 2512 has the most Christmasy cover, and sweet acoustic bilingualism for the blended family. The Silent Nights EP offers three distinctly different versions of the Christmas classic, plus a mash-up, with vast swaths of instrumentals punctuated by restrained vox. Dusty Tears go full Morricone on the Dusty Christmas EP, highlighted by loping instrumental opener “Fat Wallet.” And the two segments of the Experimental Christmas Compilation are all over the map, as expected; our favorite tracks are Andrew Weathers‘ fingerpicking take on “Joy to the World”, Subterrene‘s self-explanatory “Haunted, Ghosting” and the sobering yet exciting “Escape from Herod” by Clang Quartet, all found on Series One Point One. Happy listening, everyone!