Saturday, December 1, 2012

Have A Holly Jolly Hipster Christmas - special blog dedicated to "Holidays Rule"!!

I don't normally post on days other than Wednesday, but the new CD "Holidays Rule", showcasing mostly contemporary folk-rock and indie-pop, has soooo many good songs that would just be too much to blog about if I added them into another blog entry for non-Christmas/non-holiday related songs! There actually too many songs on this CD to be covering in one entry, so I'll be reviewing my personal faves from the CD today. So here goes! Hope you like it!!

"Auld Lang Syne" by Andrew Bird: Ever the quirky indie musician, Mr. Bird has decided not to choose a Christmas related song, and opt for a New Year's one instead! And his arrangement of it is...ummm...interesting!! Instead of being sung with reverence, it is treated more like a jaunty, honky-tonk song! No Andrew Bird song is complete without a string section instrument, but Bird continues to surprise his listeners by choosing a fiddle this time instead of a violin or cello like he usually does. It's also pretty impressive that Andrew Bird knows more than just the first verse of "Auld Lang Syne", since most people (including myself) only remember that verse!

"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten: The ultimate boy/girl duet Christmas song is performed this year by eclectic music extraordinaire Rufus Wainwright and angst-ridden folk-rocker Sharon Van Etten. Presented only with piano and vocals, Rufus and Sharon deliver an endearing duet (in which Rufus, as always, steals the show) that is bound to make one curl up inside with a cup of hot cocoa by the fireplace with his/her loved one. Van Etten's nearly deadpan vocal delivery provides an intriguing contrast with Wainwright's expressively operatic vocals, but they still manage to make it work! If only Zooey Deschanel didn't perform this song TWICE (once with Will Ferrell and another with M. Ward), I'd opt for her to sing the "girl" parts of this song, but otherwise, well worth the listen!

"Blue Christmas" by Heartless B*st*rds: A band whose name is both a curse word and an insult doesn't exactly seem like one that would be in the Christmas spirit, does it?! Surprise! Erika Wennerstrom is no Grinch! However, she did choose a more brokenhearted holiday song for "Holidays Rule", "Blue Christmas", a song that I initially thought had only been done by Elvis Presley, but has been covered by many others ever since. The HB's give "Blue Christmas" a melancholy country-rock treatment, complete with a sighing, twangy guitar solo in the middle. A big ol' heart melter, like most of the "Holidays Rule" songs, but that's why I like it!

"(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man With the Bag" by Black Prairie: With a title that's a clear reference to Santa Claus, you'd think a song like this would be pretty energetic. And it is! But...not at first. The first 30 seconds or so of "Man With the Bag" build up suspense to a song that soon begins to sound like The Decemberists got taken over by Feist leading a band of jolly little elves! A surprisingly fun song for a band whose only known song so far is called "How Do You Ruin Me?" This could land Black Prairie a guest spot on "Yo Gabba Gabba" if they're not careful, heheh.

"Green Grows the Holly" by Calexico: Not one of the obvious Santa/Rudolph type Christmas songs, but it's songs like Calexico's "Green Grows the Holly" that adds a bit of diversity in subject matter to the "Holidays Rule" song collection. A very mournful holiday song, too, but not without a unique, Calexico-style horn solo in the middle of it to make it perk up, if only for a minute. Calexico are typically more lively than they are on this acoustic-guitar-and-horns-only track. Where I would normally envision a Calexico song taking place around the Mojave Desert in the middle of summer in the afternoon, this one seems more to take place around dusk, near winter, with holly and ivy growing in place of the cacti.

"I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" by The Civil Wars: John and Joy turn a solemn Christmas song into a more charming one simply by using their signature harmonies to make the song complete, but the sentiments of requesting peace on Earth and good will to men in a world of cynical people are still there. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, The Civil Wars show, once again, how their brand of quiet is the new loud, enough to make listeners stop and become entranced by both the mellifluous melodies and universally uplifting utterances of their take on an old Christmas fave.

"It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" by Fruit Bats: The formerly cheery Christmas song, "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas", gets a makeover from indie-folk-rockers Fruit Bats, with a sound that's halfway between a classic country song and Hawaiian music. Though The Bats have made this song lose some of the pep it once had, it is not completely without its bouncy beat. It's not as though Fruit Bats have added minor chords in place of the major ones, that's still a part of the song in this version. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but more like the kind of Christmas you'd want to spend inside your house, and not outside in a mall.

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" by Punch Brothers: An interesting selection for "Holidays Rule", and an even more interesting version! Among the recent "bluegrass-rock" boom, Punch Brothers are probably one of the few (if not the only) band of the bunch that could be considered "progressive bluegrass", since their verses and choruses are often in completely different keys to one another. They continue to demonstrate this oddly amazing talent in their take on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", one of those songs that, "keeps the 'Christ' in 'Christmas'", so to speak, as its title and subject matter are both references to Jesus. Punch Brothers do not lose an ounce of reverence in their rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", in terms of both vocal and instrumental quality. Perhaps this means that Punch Brothers are "brothers" in more ways than one might expect?!

"Sleigh Ride" by fun.: I have truly underestimated fun. With each song they release, their instrumental talents continue to impress me more and more. With the combination of "modern" instruments (like synths), and more "traditional" ones (like violins and flutes) all set to a giant indie-pop wall of sound, this version of "Sleigh Ride" could have been done by Arcade Fire with the exact same arrangement (but with different vocals, obviously)!! It even dips into psychedelic, echo-y territory a la "Tomorrow Never Knows" by The Beatles towards the end of it! I think fun. are gliding through more than just a wonderland of snow in their version of "Sleigh Ride". They are gliding through a wonderland of SOUND!! Now that's what I call "ear candy"!

"The Christmas Song" by Paul McCartney: Sir Paul must be quite overwhelmed that he is both performing a song AND having a song he originally did covered by someone else ("Wonderful Christmastime") on the same album!! Macca's arrangement of the time-honored Christmas tune that begins with descriptions of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" and "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" is not a bad one, but a B effort, or perhaps even a C one, in comparison to the Nat King Cole version I'm used to hearing. It must also feel weird for Paul to be the only "classic rock" musician on a record of mostly indie-pop musicians of the '00s and 2010's. Perhaps that's why his efforts feel only so-so on "The Christmas Song", but this IS a song that seems to be good, regardless of who's singing it.

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" by The Head and The Heart: Aside from Andrew Bird's contribution to "Holidays Rule", this is the only post-Christmas December related song on the CD. I realize just now that this is The Head and The Heart's first major song with romantic sentiments attached to it. Their topics previously revolved around homesickness ("Lost In My Mind"), being a world weary traveler ("Down In the Valley"), and speculations about the paranormal ("Ghosts"). So how do The Head and The Heart fare at choosing more personal subject matter into their music?! Quite effectively, if I do say so myself. The song carries a sweet, but not sappy, message of hope to spend New Year's Eve with one's significant other, and is perfect for a cozy, warm, stay-at-home December.

"Wonderful Christmastime" by The Shins: And last, but not least, it's Paul McCartney! Ummm...I mean...The Shins COVERING Paul McCartney! Kind of. James Mercer's love of The Beach Boys is more obvious in this version of McCartney's signature Christmas tune than his love of The Beatles, what the "Good Vibrations"-ish organ to start off the song. The lyrics get either goofed up or added on to at certain parts, so it doesn't exactly feel like a sincere cover, but those who prefer have their holiday tunes sound more psychedelic than plain ol' happy might get a kick out of this version.