Growing tired of all the Christmas cheer?
November 27, 2007
One of our most beloved holidays has been hijacked by money-hungry corporations, and they’re exploiting its most memorable melodies for financial gain. We shop Macy’s amidst dreams of a “White Christmas.” “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” assures us that Pennzoil ensures premium automobile performance. And you can bet that “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” with a Coca-Cola in hand.
By mid-December, the blatant commercialization of it all is too much to handle, and tolerating – much less enjoying – Christmas music through the New Year is inconceivable.
So in the holiday spirit of generosity and the practical interest of preserving sanity, here are 5 albums that aren’t holiday themed but complement the winter season perfectly.
Matt Pond PA – “The Green Fury”
The Brooklyn-based indie pop outfit Matt Pond PA has yet to change its name despite moving from Philadelphia, and 2002’s “The Green Fury” is less of a portrait of the vibrant greens of spring than it is a stroll through the sparkling whites of winter. But odd nomenclature aside, from the fluid reverse tracking on opener “Canadians” to the rhythmic shuffling on closer “Copper Mine,” this album plays like snowflakes dancing upon a sparsely wooded plain. Gentle acoustic arrangements are accompanied by eclectic instrumentation, including lush strings and fluttering percussion. And frontman Matt Pond’s vocals often mirror those of indie icon James Mercer, likening the band’s performance to an orchestral version of the Shins in a winter wonderland. But even if the seasonal sound doesn’t sell you, the consistent imagery of snow, ice and winter play surely will.
Sufjan Stevens – “Illinois”
Stevens is well-versed in holiday music, as is evidenced by his ambitious 5-year endeavor that culminated in 2006’s “Songs for Christmas,” a 5-disc collection of Christmas themed originals alongside his interpretations of traditional carols and hymns. But when you arrive at your holiday music breaking point, 2005’s rock and jazz infused folk release “Illinois,” an exploration of spirituality and love through the history and folklore of the state, will deliver the season without overselling its holiday. “Concerning the UFO Sighting…” opens the album with somber, reverberating piano chords that drift beneath starry imagery and into the still blackness of a frigid winter night. Other tracks such as “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” feature piano riffs reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” while “The Predatory Wasp…” floats around choir arrangements fit for any Christmas Eve candlelight service. The rejoicing voices proclaim, “Oh great sights upon this state/Wonders bright and rivers, lake/Trail of Tears and Horseshoe lake/Trusting things beyond mistake/Hallelujah!”
John Coltrane – “Dear Old Stockholm”
For the sophisticated who prefer syncopated rhythms and whimsical variations on melody, there is “Dear Old Stockholm.” Recorded in 1963 and 1965, this 5 track collection features John Coltrane Quartet sessions that range from feverishly energetic to peacefully resolved. The title track is a jazzy take on a Swedish folk song set to a swinging rhythm perfect for a chilly night under city lights. Coltrane’s sax lines weave seamlessly through the first half of the number, while pianist Elvin McCoy’s staccato chords and improvisations glide gracefully through the second. But “After the Rain” is easily the album’s highlight. Cymbals gently simmer beneath mournful sax lines, while rolling piano chords guide the piece back and forth between hardly restrained tension and barely liberated movement. A dreamlike number that rests just between lucidity and a sleepy haze, it’s best experienced with a glass of fine wine.
Peter and the Wolf – “Lightness”
From the coffee colored cover art to the intimately homemade recordings and rich baritone vocals, “Lightness” by Austinite Peter and the Wolf (aka Red Hunter) is the perfect soundtrack for chilly days and nights by the fire. It’s an exercise in pure, minimal folk. Rarely will you hear anything more than a single vocal track, finger-picked acoustic guitar lines and the occasional egg shaker, but the music will captivate you from start to finish. Hunter’s vocals rumble with richness and the words behind them are warm and soothing like a steaming sip of spicy apple cider. “Did you ever hear the owl of the sea/Singing in a black pine tree/When all the world’s asleep/About a bird he used to know?” he sings on “The Owl.” On this track and others, soft female vocal harmonies also add a hauntingly entrancing quality to the music.