It's Christmastime! I am very selective about my holiday music, but the tunes I endorse I love to the core. Here are my staples to enjoy and to avoid.
"Songs for Christmas" by Sufjan Stevens
Classic quirky and folksy Sufjan, heavy on the banjo. I'll hit the highlights:
Noel, 2001, Volume I
- "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" I strongly dislike when versions of this song add two beats between the lyrics "Emmanuel" and "shall come to thee..." because it breaks the thought in half. This version does that, but it breaks between every half-thought so I don't mind it. When I sing along I am allowed time to meditate between every phrase instead of just that one. Plus, there's a lot of banjo :)
- "We're Going to the Country!" It's true that the singing gets annoying, but the banjo is just too beautiful to resist.
Hark, 2002, Volume II
- "Only at Christmas Time" Melancholy melody, but worshipful words. Short and lovely.
Ding! Dong!, 2003, Volume III
- "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever" This song is beautiful and sad. Although there's no proof, I think it's related to "The Mistress Witch from McClure," where Sufjan and his siblings discover their father is having an affair. This lyric lingers: "Silent night, nothing feels right..."
- "All the King's Horns" A song about the purpose of Christ's coming, which gives us reason to celebrate and worship. It takes us from his birth to his resurrection.
- "The Friendly Beasts" A grown-up version of a song that seems best suited for children.
Joy!, 2004, Volume IV
- "Away in a Manger" I love the pleas with Jesus to stay and love us.
- "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!)" A song about a complicated relationship...
- "Joy to the World" I love the lyrics to this hymn, and this is a great arrangement with beautiful harmony.
Peace!, 2005, Volume V
- "Christmas in July" Fun in 5/4 time.
- "Holy, Holy, Holy" Such a beautiful and theologically rich hymn, with the added bonus of major 7 chords and the iii chord.
"A Ceremony of Carols" by Benjamin Britten, as performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale
It's like a choral dream come true! The gorgeous genius of Britten directed by arguably the best living choral director in the world. I get butterflies when I press play because I'm so excited about what I'm about to hear. The Procession, the Interlude (oh the harp!), and the Recession are particularly engaging. The soloist on "Balulalow" floats on the last title lyric better than I could ever hope to hear. "This Little Babe" is so exciting and full of energy; I picture an infant with a hand-grenade.
The rest of "A Robert Shaw Christmas" is excellent as well.
"One More Drifter in the Snow" by Aimee Mann
I love Aimee Mann for her songwriting, not her singing. So listening to her nasal alto voice on run-of-the-mill arrangements of cheesy holiday tunes is even more disappointing than it sounds. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is particularly unbearable. The only redeeming factor is "Calling on Mary," the one song she actually wrote on the album.
"Room for Squares" by John Mayer
This will always be a Christmas album to me, with "St. Patrick's Day" as its shining star. I especially love the line "we should take a ride tonight around the town and look around at all the beautiful houses" despite its redundancy because driving around looking at Christmas lights is one of my favorite traditions.
"Last Christmas" by George Michael, and all its respective covers
I heard an Aimee Mann b-side, "Backfire," today at Discount Tire. It was puzzling but awesome.
I am sick of people asking me if I've heard of the Swell Season. There's a now two-year-old movie, two albums, Starbucks endorsement, PBS live recording, Daytrotter session...is there anyone left who hasn't heard the Swell Season? But I do think I've finally figured out why I don't like them. Of course, I dislike all the hype. But more importantly, I really liked the movie and I feel like the real-life duo undid everything I liked about the movie. The man and the woman in the movie are complete musical nobodies, struggling buskers, who make a really, surprisingly, awesome album together. There is romantic tension between the characters but they never act on it. Those are the two best things about the movie. But in real life they aren't nobodies. Glen Hansard was an Irish-rock god for ten years with the Frames, and Marketa Irglova auditioned for her role in the movie. And, of course, in real life Hansard and Irglova don't exercise cautious refrain in their friendship; they develop a romantic relationship. And because it's a naturalist movie, I feel betrayed that the real story is so different from the fiction.
Check out some really lovely posters!