Earworms of the Week
Look, I realise it may be a little late to be recommending Christmas music to you, but I've made a couple of very pleasing discoveries over the last couple of weeks and I thought I'd share. I'm a big fan of Christmas music, as you probably know, but I try and look a little further afield than the Pogues, Wham and Slade. Not that there's anything wrong with them, per se, it's just that they're played to death every bloody year and there's loads of other good stuff out there if you just go and look for it.
I made a playlist for Christmas 2007 that was made up of loads of songs of the c.2000 XFM Christmas album (eels, Belle & Sebastian, Grandaddy etc) as well as seasonal classics by the likes of Joseph Spence, Peter Broggs, James Brown, Sufjan Stevens and so on. Since then, I've more or less played the same set of songs to death and been just as guilty as everyone else of not looking a little further afield for some newer stuff.
This year, I tried a bit harder. As well as turfing up old reliables like Dean Martin and Doris Day duetting on "Baby, It's Cold Outside", I also downloaded some a clutch of new releases.
A Very She & Him Christmas.
I think I first heard Zooey Deschanel singing a Christmas song as I watched Elf one year. She's got a lovely voice, and her duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Will Ferrell was great fun (she was in the shower, to boot). It's not on the soundtrack for some reason, sadly, so I stumbled on this instead. When I saw that this album was coming out and that they had included that song on the tracklisting, I was keen to have a listen. Actually, it's probably the weakest thing on the album: they've reversed the genders of the lyrics, but apart from that they seem to have taken out most of the playfulness that makes the song really interesting in the first place (albeit those lyrics are a bit dubious, no matter how charmingly Deano sings them). I still bought the album though, and I'm really glad that I did.
Deschanel has released a couple of albums with singer/songwriter M. Ward in the past, and although they're apparently pretty good, neither has crossed my radar. This album sees them apparently playing a lot straighter than those other records, and contains covers of seasonal classics like "Sleigh Ride", "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", "Silver Bells", "Little Saint Nick" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".
It's probably not everyone's cup of tea (she has a particular way of singing that will no doubt grate with some, and some fools don't even like the ukulele....), and they're hardly treading new ground here, but I like this album. It presents mostly familiar classics in a slightly different way, without being so different as to make them unpalatable. I played this a lot at the in-laws over Christmas. Unless you really, really hate her voice, then it won't upset anyone. That sounds like faint praise, but I like it.
This Is Christmas - Emmy The Great and Tim Wheeler.
Apparently inspired when the real-life-couple were snowed in last Christmas, this is an album of mostly original Christmas songs. As you might hope and expect from these two, you get a slightly alternative approach to the season. For starters, the one cover on the album, "Marshmallow World" from the Phil Spector album, is presented with guitars ablazing to cut through the sugary-sweetness of the lyrics themselves. It's a great version and it rocks along nicely. We also get "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)", "Zombie Christmas", where the pair imagine a desperate fight for survival against the undead over the holidays and "(Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas", a lament by Mrs Christmas about how she can't take being alone at Christmas again. There's some seasonal sugar on here too, with songs like "Home For the Holidays" and "Snowflakes", and the whole thing does sound a little bit like it was recorded on Garage Band, but I like it.
There are power chords!
Definitely worth a listen, anyway.
And to think that they so nearly called themselves "Sleigher", which would have unquestionably been the best band name ever....
Funny Looking Angels - Smith & Burrows.
So the singer from Editors and the drummer from Razorlight got together and made a seasonal record.
No wait! Come back!
Actually, in spite of those unpromising ingredients, this is my favourite album of the lot: I'm a sucker for a mournful baritone voice like Tom Smith's, but Andy Burrows' falsetto is a revelation (certainly coming from a drummer, nevermind the Razorlight drummer). The song selection is eclectic: the album opens with a stark version of "In The Bleak Midwinter", and amongst the original songs we have covers of Black's "Wonderful Life" (which suits Smith's voice) and Yazoo's "Only You", neither of which disgrace themselves by any means.
It's two of the original song's that stay with me, though: "When the Thames Froze" sees Smith pause in singing wistfully about skating on the Thames with his son to lament:
"God damn, this government
Will they ever tell me, where the money went
Protesters march out on the street
As young nerds sleep amongst the feet"
Not conventionally Christmassy, sure, but a record doesn't have to be dripping sleigh bells to make it seasonal or topical, does it? It's a lovely record.
Even better is "This Ain't New Jersey", which has quickly become one of my favourite songs of the year. It's a wistful, bittersweet view of Christmas and of a relationship. Seemingly out of nowhere comes a song -- and an album -- that completely bowls me over. I had no idea they were recording it, and if I had I would probably have sneered, which just goes to show what I know about music.
Do yourself a favour and check it out.
"We drink, we sing, what a state we're in.
Here's to another year".
Happy New Year to you all. You can always play them next year, right?
Oh, and by the way, the Auditorium Top 10 album of the year countdown is in full flight.... do go and check it out, if only to marvel at how three people (me, LB and bedshaped) can come up with so many different albums in a single year: barely any overlap at all this year. Long may it continue. Wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same thing?