By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Perhaps Willie Nelson said it best: "This looks like a December day." Or Merle Haggard: "If we make it through December..." The icy wind whips through the trees, retail checkout lines resemble a stock pit on one of those massive Wall Street sell-off days and Noise is already so burdened with holiday stress he's ready to strangle Frosty the Snowman on sight.
Like his muse Chrissie Hynde said on 1982's "2000 Miles," it must be Christmastime.
Noise hasn't done any actual research or anything, but it seems likely to him that a major reason people go out of their gourds this time of year is morning till night, in the car, at work or at the mall, they're bombarded by a glut of holiday music that, for lack of a better word (or not), is absolute shite — songs as crass and commercial as the stores jockeying to separate shoppers from their money.
Mind you, Noise is no holiday-music hater. One of the best performances he's ever seen, of anything, was Luciano Pavarotti, Vanessa Williams and a full choir doing "O Come All Ye Faithful" on Saturday Night Live. Other longtime favorites include Galveston native Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," Elvis's Lieber/Stoller gem "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and the Pogues' immortal "Fairytale in New York." Just the other day he heard a great new one, Billy Bob Thornton & the Boxmasters' "Christmas in Prison" — basically Bad Santa set to music.
So, with the ever-optimistic attitude of a kid setting out milk and cookies for Santa, Noise set out to find a few 2008 holiday albums that don't suck, and — praise the Lord — he actually found a few.
Kemper Crabb, Downe in Yon Forrest: Christmas from the Middle Ages: Christmas was a lot different 700 years ago. No malls, Jesus was known as "Divinum Mysterium of the Father Love Begotten" to his MySpace pals, and both Christmas and Christmas music had a ways to go yet to shed their pagan origins. That means if you know what a diembe, dumber or bowed psaltery is without consulting a dictionary, or really dug the music in Gladiator — sitar, dulcimer, bouzouki, the works — this is the holiday album for you.
Forrest should also appeal to anyone who loves Led Zeppelin III; try "Es Kommt Ein Schiff (The Song of the Ship)" or the chilling "Down in Ye Forest." Even cooler, Forrest issues not from Bethlehem or Coventry but from Katy's Church of the Holy Apostles, where Crabb — a Houstonian and former member of A-list Christian rockers Caedmon's Call — and his ensemble recorded these songs live.
About half of these tunes survived those dark times — the tripped-out, tabla-heavy "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" chief among them. However, it's the ones that didn't that make Forrest one of the most fascinating Christmas albums (and one that actually, you know, worships Jesus to boot) to come from anywhere, let alone Houston, in, well, ages.
Gentleman Auction House, Christmas in Love EP (Emergency Umbrella): Within about 20 seconds of "A Banner Year," the opener of Gentleman Auction House's new Christmas in Love EP, the St. Louis indie-pop hydra has managed to recall Belle & Sebastian, Arcade Fire and another dozen or so boy-girl bands that are equally earnest and invigorating. In words, the seven-piece's (though only two play on this song) Velvet Underground/Yo La Tengo fuzz-candy is pretty damn addictive.
In declaring themselves too cool to celebrate Christmas, people under 30 — musicians mostly, but also those who enable them — have deprived an entire generation of contemporary Christmas carols. "Home for the Holidays," which furthers both David Byrne's Brazilian and Elvis Costello's Jamaican studies, sums up American Apparel Nation's general Yuletide attitude in one line: "Our holidays were just fine when you were away."
Christmas in Love goes a long way to mitigate this unfortunate state of affairs, and does so in only six songs, leaving room for blogworthy romantic sentiment among the boilerplate twentysomething angst. "On the Rooftop," over a snappy accordion lick, some dude tries to keep Santa from stealing his girlfriend by telling her "He said he won't be late, be late, be late, so you better kiss your man now." (Take note, though: If you love "Here Comes Santa Claus" but can't stand the Faint, this may not be the Christmas record for you.)
Christmas in Love is probably the only recording to declare, "I don't want love at Christmas" this year, in a while and maybe ever. Love is the last thing anyone should want at Christmas, unless it's family. Just one more person to shop for.
Don't miss the his-and-hers tombstones on the back cover or the electrocized title track, which begins "the trees are barren..." On disc, it sounds even more Ultravox austere than that.
Various Artists, We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year (Armoury): Oh, where to begin? Satan takes a holiday? The devil got run over by a reindeer? Or just a really fun album that reminds us metal is still the purest extension of Elvis-style rock and roll? We'll go with the latter, although is Noise the only person who noticed Santa and Satan are only one letter apart?