Tag Archives: Christmas

Baby It’s Cold Inside: A Second Wintertime Stroll

Ah, December 24th: the first and last shopping day of the holidays for so many of us. The day we crowd into the olfactory wasteland between the Body Shop and the Electronics Boutique, the Best Buy and Golden Age Collectibles, the vast human sea of the Wal Mart beckoning as the clock ticks toward midnight. I’m excited, you guys! Excited for such couplings as presents and mincemeat tarts, pajamas and Jimmy Stewart, rum and eggnog, alcohol and Alastair Sim, yuletide and muppet babies, Celine Dion and Michael Buble AND HANSON AND ANDRE BOCELLI AND YOUNG MICHAEL JACKSON AND BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE AND

Woah. Blacked out there for a minute.

See that’s the thing, isn’t it? Christmas music, for all its dubiously noble intentions (here’s looking at you, “Santa Baby”), is a yuletide disaster.

It’s the music industry hitting CLEAN OVEN when they meant PREHEAT on that musical Christmas Turkey Dinner.

It’s Christmas Morning Coffee without four ounces of rum.

It’s Chevy Chase’s career after National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

It’s a well-intentioned but woefully undercooked Christmas quiche delivered unannounced and uninvited, year after year, by a very sweet but very confused relative. Through the doggy door.
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It is the laziest pastiche of 50s and 60s songwriting tropes since, well, “Jingle Bell Rock” – which is not a rock song (but features the bonkers “Captain Santa Claus (and His Reindeer Space Patrol)” as its B-side).
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If you don’t believe me, and I’ve been on this rant before, take it from the brilliantly eloquent John Roderick of the Long Winters: Christmas Music is a real mess, and we put up with it because we’re conditioned to. Because it’s comforting and traditional and familiar and it’s on at my mom’s house – and for as much as there’s nothing wrong with that, it leaves a santa-sized hole in my heart, every year, as I snake through the mall buying my tributes to Krampus.
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Phew, okay, that’s enough festive negativity – I’ll leave that to Mr. Roderick and every person that’s ever been offended by “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Which ought to be “each”.
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And so, on Christmas Eve 2015, here’s some more music for those of us that are more ‘Batman Returns’ than ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ – round two. In no particular order, the second collection of music I enjoy around the holiday times. Some are albums that make me think about the Christmas season in particular, others are soundtracks dedicated to living in the sort of frozen, morose city that I inhabit during the coldest months. Some are cold and hard and aggressive. Some are warm and relaxing, others nearly smothering. Some are lonely, others comforting in their loneliness like the uncanny stillness of a snowy winter evening. One is a black metal concept album about watching moss grow.
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So here’s my holiday gift to you, one and all: a very Merry Whatever, a wonderful holiday season spent with relatives, and at least a little music that doesn’t feature Santa. Let’s be independent together.
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Ho Ho Ho.
(Really I just wanted to be a dentist.)
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Nujabes – Spiritual State

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The last time I did this column, much more of the music was typically winter-y; there were more actual Christmas albums, some literally winter-themed works, whatever Colt 45 Christmas is. But I still did a double-take when I realized I’d forgotten to include Spiritual State. Nujabes was a Japanese R&B producer turned hip-hop producer turned anime culture touchstone, following his work on Samurai Champloo‘s landmark hip-hop soundtrack. He spent his career making gorgeous, lush beats, frequently featuring guest rappers but more often focusing on a clarinet loop, a snare sample, a guest pianist. Nujabes made jazz-infused beats the influence of which is still rattling out among producers today. Then, at the age of 36, he died in a car crash. Cobbled from his leftover recordings and cell-phone notes(!), we get Spiritual State. Grounded in R&B but with influences stretching frequently into hip-hop, samba and jazz, Spiritual State is the rare producer showcase that features guest jazz musicians as much as it does rappers. The album’s production as a whole is almost stiflingly warm, with hazy reverb blending piano loops into the horn showcases into the vinyl-static hiss – it would be a great summer album if energy were ever a priority. Spiritual State – as much a farewell to Nujabes as the summertime chillout it yearns to be – cradles the listener with the immediacy of its production and the intimacy of its subject matter. Simultaneously comforting and mournful (see tracks: “Prayer”, “Island”), Nujabes’ farewell is a perfect winter-night’s relaxation.
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Miss Red – Murder

homepage_large.4e5b7f2d While we’re clearing out summertime albums secretly destined for winter listening, here’s an especially weird one: icy reggae/hip-hop/dancehall from Israel, made by Miss Red, a woman who might be half squeaky balloon. Miss Red might also be only artist here I feel unqualified to talk about. She’s a rapper, yes, with a voice she can squeak into a stratospheric bark and back again in the space of seconds, but she’s also making reggae – in fact she identifies her genre as Acid Ragga. Alright, sure, great – and while Miss Red herself is the fascinating and peculiar star of the show, it’s the production here that places Murder square into wintertime territory. Despite reggae and dancehall beats, nothing escapes the speckling of distortion thrown across every track –  and Red’s voice meanders in and out of the mix, echoing and disappearing to reappear heavily distorted the next bar. The beats are danceable and bass heavy, sure, but also rife with hard-treble clashes and a peculiar sort of menace that never totally fades out of the mix. Murder is one of the strangest new things I’ve heard in a while, and it makes for great wintertime walking music: we won’t be hearing anything like it until the imitators appear. Oh it’s also Very Free.

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Ratking – So It Goes

14681-so-it-goesMy enthusiasm for talking about Ratking – from their Vonnegut-referencing album title to their lead MC Wiki, who at 23 is missing a full quarter of his teeth – was the catalyst for my forming this entire Christmas list, and for good reason. In interview Wiki claims his New York lifestyle is half hip-hop and half noise, and brilliantly their music follows the same formula: these are New York rap tunes for sure, but shot through with holes, bleeding noise from every verse. Wiki has an obsession with storytelling and an eye for detail that comes through on every track: from the details of living with his Mom to getting ripped off by junkies, every track is gripping in its sincerity. MC Hak never professes to be a rapper at all – and though he certainly raps, the construction of his verses points to a greater interest in poetry, in the deliberate construction of spoken word structures that he weaves through with alliterative ease. Ratking are peculiar, and not only because of Wiki’s gaptoothed flow and their white-noise riddled beats with their odd transitions and shouted refrains. They’re a rare rap reminder that the history of New York music is as much the story of Suicide and Dead Boys as it is Nas and Wu-Tang. From the King Krule cameo to the brilliant beat transition in “Snow Beach”, every track of So It Goes feels designed for listening in the frigid streets of your city of choice, at night. Highly recommended.

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The Trans-Syberian Orchestra – Christmas Eve and Other Stories

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Nox Arcana – Winter’s Knight

winter_animeAre you running a Dickensian/Lovecraftian DnD campaign in which Alastair Sim battles through past, present and future in order to learn an important lesson about not being a jerk to small children and also the Elder Gods? Are you having trouble sourcing background music that effectively communicates the simultaneous Christmas Cheer and Christmas Dread that that encounter would have to entail? How does “At the Mountains of Madness At The North Pole” sound to you? If you answered ‘what’ DO I EVER HAVE THE ALBUM FOR YOU. Also guaranteed to be a big ol’ Christmas Ham bigger than anything Ebenezer could ever have afforded.

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Drake – Take Care

5166i3PHK-L Take Care is so neat and so end-to-end encompassing of a particular moment in Drake’s career that it’s 4 years later and I still haven’t bothered with another Drake album – and this is comes from a guy that can’t stand the sort of commercial R&B that Drake’s largely known for. Casting my punk cred to the wind, I argued this same point 4 years ago: Take Care is brilliant in its seclusion and isolation, in the way its slower moments can suck the air out of a room, in the bread-crumb trail of weirdly personal details Drake feeds us. Everything about the album drips luxury and self-deprecation in equal measure and the production immediately takes center stage; Take Care would be genius if Drake never showed up (never mind Trilogy-era Weeknd). Everything sounds immediate and warm, it’s a comfortingly sad album – the highs are muted, the lows satisfying in their hollowed-out familiarity. There are no sharp edges on Take Care, but there’s so much more it than the sad album about girls that it initially appears. If you only do one sincerely narcissistic R&B album to yourself this holiday season, maybe take a chance on 2011 Drake: the rare commercial R&B album as likely inspire self-reflection as romance. Goes well with warm alcoholic drinks, quiet cold evenings at home, and reruns of Degrassi.

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Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet

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Come one come all, witness the human exhibition, the grown man as excited about everything as any kid on any Christmas! Now I could sit here and make everyone feel old as hell by reminding them that this album CAME OUT IN 2001, AND IS OLD ENOUGH TO BE IN GRADE 9, but the fact is it’s a modern classic. In its own bizarre way, Andrew W.K.’s brand of hyper-enthusiasm and maximalism (bang those pianos!) had wormed its way far into the pop culture landscape long before the birth of memes. Regardless of whether the whole thing was a joke and a satire (it was.), there’s undeniable sincerity to Andrew’s excitement about damn-near anything, and it’s completely endearing from start to finish. The perfect millennial Christmas house-party music is also the perfect pump-up music for just anything at all, and those perpetual piano staccato hits remind me of the holidays, every single time. Introduce Andrew W.K.’s maniac sugar-rush to your completely bewildered local relatives this festival season. Fourteen years later, it’s still the only music that sounds like sprinting down those Christmas morning stairs.

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Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness [Part 2 – Souls Aflame; The Reckoning of the Seven Army Cat Wars]

good-apollo Maybe you were thinking, “I really like this list, but I want to feel like it’s 2004 and I’m in Highschool and I need a giant lavish and falsetto-infected pop-punk-prog-rock Space Opera because I live in a very small town and get bored over the holidays. Entertain me in my Brain Theatre with your intergalactic torch songs!” GOOD NEWS FRIEND, ALSO 15 YEAR OLD ME. I’m not here to fight the merits of Coheed and Cambria, or the fact that their album titles are complex enough to pass the Voight-Kampff Test, but if what you’re looking for is lavish and complex space fantasy covered in a layer of really, really accessible progressive rock, this is as interesting and varied as their songwriting gets (it’s their Black Holes and Revelations). Good Apollo I’m Etc. is another album on this list with no hard edges at all – even at a full scream Claudio Sanchez smartly mutes his production, lending the whole album a satisfying heft. Odd as it sounds, it’s another album that just feels warm. When I was a young kid growing up in a boring-ass town, this kind of over-ambitious storytelling stuff threw me for a complete loop and I loved every second of it. Give yourself the gift of unparseably dense lore and satisfyingly dense songwriting this chilly season, and don’t forget to pick up the companion comics so you can tell your Keywork from your Heaven’s Fence. Yep.

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Winterfylleth – The Threnody of Triumph

Winterfylleth-The-Threnody-Of-Triumph Do you remember everything I wrote last time about Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit, about how Black Metal plays so beautifully during a blizzard? About how the tumult and screech of blastbeats and heavy distortion can evoke the rush of winter wind, the beautiful freeze of a mountain snow, and other cool metaphors? All of that is true of Winterfylleth’s self-titled, and in many of the ways that also drew me to Agalloch: this is another heavy, heavy band that knows exactly when to pull back and let a track breathe. There are breathtaking moments of stillness on Winterfylleth, where everything drops away and the listener drifts through the eye of the storm before submerging back into another wall of noise. There are those cool moments of spontaneous folk as well, like on the unpronounceable “Жfterield Frйon”. If you’re the sort of person that’s drawn to this sort of music – or even if you aren’t – you owe it to yourself to give Winterfylleth’s self-titled a look. Like Marrow of the Spirit they find ways to secret passages of surprising beauty in the tumult, and that’s exactly what I need from my yuletide metal.

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Agalloch – The Mantle

R-382752-1154774672.jpeg Everything I loved about Marrow of the Spirit, but recorded before it and featuring a track that samples the actual sound of a dude walking through snow, to a cabin. If you like beautiful, uncanny black metal (or even if you think it’s insufferably pretentious), give this a shot. Think of it like Marrow of the Spirit: Begins. With less Ra’s Al-Ghul.

 

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Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Legacy

 

celestial-lineage Everything I wrote above is still true here, except with much more druidic leanings, and the advantage of being another wonderful Pacific Northwestern black metal band. Also this is the concept album about moss, so have at it.

 

 

 

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El-P – Fantastic Damage

51P1ysVHAAL The Definitive (Jux) soundtrack to inner-city paranoia fired through a filter of social commentary, frustration, and science fiction. Long before Run The Jewels El-P was the king of a very particular brand of underground hip-hop. Intentionally obfuscating his vocals, El-P draws attention to his sci-fi sampling beats (he’s his own producer), and the result remains like nothing else out there. You can see the influence of his work on Ratking, of all people: it’s a keenly urban claustrophobia, and El-P evokes rainy city cityscapes draped over a sort of creeping cyberpunk dread. Maybe his greatest virtue is managing all of this without pretension or condescension – there’s a morality to his work, and a political bent to the scenes he paints (“Stepfather Factory”), but there’s zero attempt to valorize himself even on a surface level. El-P remains one of the most compelling voices in modern rap because of the groundwork he lays down here. Step inside his weird paranoid head and see what New York will be like in a hundred years: new technology, same problems. Run the Jewels truthers start your journey here.

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Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein

Cannibal_Ox_-_The_Cold_Vein As much an El-P production showcase as a rap album, if you find Fantastic Damage creepy and a bit unlistenable, The Cold Vein is moderately more accessible, though just as comfortless. If you can overcome the high fence to accessibility, this is another bedrock moment for underground, futuristic hip-hop. Very strange, very paranoid, and very unique. Consider it a companion piece to Fantastic Damage, for those long nighttime trips through Vancouver’s 12 hours of rainy night. Cold, creepy and compelling space-station rap.

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The Roots – Undun

download Man, I love Undun. It feels like no one else liked Undun! The Roots first major move towards becoming inaccessibly weird is a hidden gem. All of 40 minutes long and a rap-culture opera in reverse, it follows the saga of our protagonist from untimely death back to his birth – and it’s gorgeous. Oh my god it’s so pretty. Black Thought’s in the house, sure, but the real stars here are the production and the guest spots: Big K.R.I.T. is perfect on “Make My’, Truck North and Greg Porn shine on “Kool On”, the ?uestlove-produced instrumental passages towards the end are melancholy to just the right degree. I’ve gushed about this album elsewhere on the site, but it’s the warmth of the production that keeps me coming back each winter. There’s a grandiosity to its street level narrative that matches the heightened emotion of the season, and an inevitable tragedy delivered so smoothly that it feels like a lullaby. The Roots are guilty of pretension here absolutely (though they’d get worse on later albums), but if you need to be told a street-level bedtime story with accessible hooks, downtempo choruses and some of my favourite Black Thought performances, look no further.

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Special Mentions: Albums I’m still bugging you about, 2013. Get it together.

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John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton – One Christmas At A Time

OneChristmasAtATimeBlog Do you need actual Christmas music that embodies everything I’m trying to do here? Seriously, just go grab this thing. It’s a delight. There’s sarcasm (Coulton), there’s self-deprecation (Roderick), there’s hilarity, and there’s the saddest Christmas song I know (“Christmas is Interesting”). It’s gorgeous, it’s religiously ambivalent, and it’s as noble an attempt as I’ve ever seen to elicit the feels – good and bad – of the holiday season without condescension and without covering #HolidayFavourites. It’s an all-time favourite of mine, and it’s difficult to track down online. Go buy it, I promise it’s worth it.

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水田直志 – Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections

s-l300 My obsession with acoustic piano music around Christmas time is well documented, and there’s a reason for that. The piano perfectly elicits the beauty of the season while as a solo instrument maintaining the solitude and often-times loneliness so many of us experience around the season. It’s beautiful in a very particular way, and although this is a soundtrack to a thirteen year-old online videogame I played as a teen, it’s a seriously gorgeous collection of etudes and sonatas. No prior knowledge of the franchise (or Linkshell) needed.

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Akira the Don – Saturnalia Superman

atd-xmas-sleeve-550Because it never stops being a blast.

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Vince Guaraldi.

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You did it, you made it to the end of my reverse Christmas List, in which I foist stuff upon you! Congratulations. I’m very proud. Thank you so much for reading, guys, and remember not to take my sarcasm too seriously. Get into whatever Christmas Jams make you happy, and share, why don’t you! I’m seeing a lot of crazy, subversive Christmas originals and covers popping up all over the place that will soon render my work here grumpy and ambivalent. Good.

Merry Christmas, one and all, see you next year.

 

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Ps. Did you need lists? Here’s a catalogue of the stuff I’ve covered this year and last time:

Last Year, 2013:

水田直志 -FFXI Piano Collections

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
Akira the Don – Saturnalia Superman
Johnathan Coulton, Roderick – One Christmas At A Time
Aivi and Surasshu – The Black Box
GZA – Liquid Swords
Nightwish – Imaginaerum
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth
Amebix – Sonic Mass
Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
Venetian Snares – My Downfall
Vince Guaraldi – Peanuts Christmas
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
Afroman – Colt 45 Christmas
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This Year:
Ratking – So It Goes
Winterfylleth – The Threnody of Triumph
Nujabes – Spiritual State
Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet
Miss Red – Murder
Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
Agalloch – The Mantle
Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV
El-P – Fantastic Damage
The Roots – Undun
Drake – Take Care
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Nox Arcana – Winter’s Night
Vince Guaraldi.

 

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Transylvanilla Presents: How Is It The 20th

So it’s the Holiday Season one and all, and let’s get this one out of the way early: a lot of you are excited for Christmas next week. And Christmas time means Christmas Music, and Christmas Music means Michael Bublé. Music to fall asleep slammed on rum and eggnog to – so let’s put this one straight on the table:

Christmas music is terrible. 

Christmas Music is some of the laziest pop of the last 60 years. 

And I’m not kidding about the last 60 years – you’re aware that most of the beloved Christmas hits are eery utopian 1950’s fantasies articulated through some of the laziest songwriting in history… right? And let’s not get me started on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Coercion in C Major” whatever that song’s original title must have been. It’s like 5 days til Christmas, Transylvanilla readers, and if you’re anything like me you’re headed to the mall like right now to get that shopping in before the inevitable last-day all-out beatdown at the local Toys’R’Us over whatever Adventure Time gear is in vogue right now. It’s cool, you can do this, you’re Saint Nicholas, you’re Santa you’re… well maybe you’re Krampus. I’m not your boss.You’re gonna march right in there and buy the hell out of that Blood On The Dance Floor album for your inexplicably tone-deaf little nephew. Yes you are.

But you’re going to wear headphones.

Because you’re sure as heck not doing it to the mall’s terrifying menagerie of Christmas Muzak, you’re better than that and you know it. 

And hey, maybe I’m better than that and maybe I’m not – but I know what I like, and I’m an irreligious East Van Music Guy. Maybe you are too, or maybe you just want to see me faceplant into some of my more embarrassing musical selections. So what do we play around here at Transylvanilla Publishing a.k.a. The Crow’s Nest a.k.a. The Krampus Den when it’s freezing out? Glad you asked. Introducing:

Transylvanilla’s 2013 Christmas Throwdown: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (but I understand and respect that you’re more comfortable going home, so maybe another time)

Some of it is even gonna be Christmas-themed! Fun!

Disclaimer: This list comes with the knowledge and assumption that you know I’m kind of about to embarrass myself. This also isn’t a Christmas List: these are the things that take me to Winter, when I’m feeling Wintery, and I think we might all benefit from knowing what music makes me feel like it’s snowing out. ‘Tis the season etc. and so on!

水田直志 – The Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections

Okay, so maybe I’m starting a little weird, but this is by far my favourite Christmas-season album of all time. And of course it has nothing to do with Christmas – this piano collection is nothing more or less than two Japanese pianists wandering through solo (and duet) piano performances of several of Final Fantasy XI’s more memorable tunes. It’s absolutely gorgeous – it’s the kind of thing I can’t properly put a label on, but I can say I’ve been listening to this thing for years on end, every winter, and that I bought it at an Asian music store at least 7 years ago. Please, give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean – this is simply some of the most gorgeous contemporary piano stuff I’ve heard in a long time. So there’s something solitary and uniquely rhythmic about a solitary piano performance that I’ve always equated to long evenings spent inside watching the snow fall outside – and no doubt this falls back to my own childhood, shackled to the piano as I was. Regardless, weirdly enough this thing is my quintessential christmas album. But don’t worry – we’ll get weirder.

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

We’re going to do a lot of genre meandering here, but I can’t stress this next part enough: if you’re into the weirder, more subtly artistic side of black metal, I cannot advocate Marrow of the Spirit heavily enough for winter listening. And of course Black Metal (and, really, metal of all varieties) plays so wonderfully during winter – the queer calmness of the landscape, muted by snow. The flurry of snowflakes. The bitter cold. This album, maybe more than any other I’ll show here, was explicitly recorded to sound like winter, and I’ve rarely heard an album that portrays that Pacific-Northwestern soggy cold quite as well. Look at that cover! Listen to this nine-minute song about a lake! Agalloch writes winding, massive opuses spanning dynamic range, musical influence (Folk Black Metal!) and… a lot of time, clearly. Discovered a few years ago, Agalloch quickly became my gateway into a lot of Black Metal’s weirder impulses, a surprising amount of which are being exercised right here in the Pacific Northwest. They’re a fantastic band, and if this happens to floor you, I quietly and fervently gesture in the direction of Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage as well. Which is a concept album about, apparently, moss.

Akira The Don – Saturnalia Superman: Akira The Don Salutes the Majesty of Christmas

You knew I wasn’t getting out of here without bringing this dude into it, didn’t you? Though technically ATD-whichever, Akira’s Christmas album (and it is one, the first on this list) really stands apart from a lot of his catalogue – it’s well produced, well put-together and – oh, I’ve already reviewed it. And.. I liked it! Well that’s a relief. In all honesty, the album is a ton of fun, and he’s got it online so I’ll waste no time with links. Akira, a friend of the show, just knows how to have fun. He also knows how to keep Christmas in his own odd way – while simultaneously being a punk about Santa, poking holes in the myth of December 25th, wrangling a weirdly sexy duet out of fellow UK-rapper Envy, producing a beautiful, largely instrumental track with his Father-in-Law and telling us all about doing acid on Christmas. Yep. Naturally, this is a Yuletide hit around these parts – and would be even if it weren’t a blast, because at least it wasn’t written in the 50’s as a culture-vampirizing cash-grab, maaaan. I love my Christmas good and critical, which also largely validates our next choice…

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick: One Christmas At A Time

Last Christmas I sat on the floor, listened to “Christmas Is Interesting” north of about 5 times in a row and just… thought about life. Recorded as a very intentional response to the crap pop music we’re all inevitably exposed to each winter, One Christmas At A Time is a fantastic little collection of odd christmas tunes written by odd Christmas men – and this is Jonathan Coulton of course, the man that wrote the Portal song and that track about being an evil genius, so yes the quirk level is fairly high. There’s a Johnny Cash tribute, “2600” about wanting an Atari, the tear-jerking “Christmas Is Interesting”, a song about a drunk family member – it’s really all here. This one’s basically impossible to look up online (that is, to youtube) so you’ll have to go on a recommendation and just grab it. I bought this one on a whim and was completely impressed; the songwriting ranges from laugh-inducing to eerily incisive (and that’s Coulton for you), the guitar-work (largely courtesy of the brilliant John Roderick) is gorgeous, and the whole thing just feels like a modern, appropriately critical Christmas. It’s grand.

Oh and there’s a track in which they just read out the Wikipedia entry for Hanukkah to a techno beat. So that’s pretty great.

Aivi and Surasshu – The Black Box

Here’s a fun one, and a project I’d really like to draw more attention to. The Black Box comes with a pretty piano music warning, but runs on a real neat premise: it’s a story about a girl making a robot friend, told simultaneously through a series of synthesizer/piano duets and the comic that comes with the album. It’s not complicated, and it isn’t going to blow your mind, but the musical direction behind these two pianists (as well as their musical chemistry) is simply fantastic. The synthesizer side will flip into chiptune influences, or squeak out some Sonic The Hedgehog-style casino-horns, just as the piano side will shimmer brilliantly and arpeggiate into a Mario quotation, or a Katamari Damacy one, or the Final Fantasy theme. It’s a really interesting, novel approach to making music – simultaneously telling their own story, writing their own jazz, and flipping perpetually to various videogame references – and it really sets the duo apart. Additionally, and this is aside from my propensity for loving piano music when it’s snowing, all of The Black Box skitters and dances; it never gets particularly heavy, invasive or bass-involved. Which is to say it’s perfect snowfall-music. It’s relaxing, it’s pretty, it’s available for whatever you feel like paying. So please do pick it up – I have a feeling these two independents need all the support we can give them – and the comic isn’t half-bad either.

GZA – Liquid Swords

I might have to do a lot of things on this site, but I know I don’t have to tell you why you need to be listening to Liquid Swords, right? Like, if you care about hip-hop at all there’s a pretty absurdly sizable list of reasons you need to have heard it. Aside from the lyrical acrobatics, the GZA’s centipede-consistent flow, the rock-solid consistency (and occasional weirdness!) of RZA’s production, the brilliance of Method Man’s cameos (and how his voice contrasts to GZA’s), the brilliance of imagery, the absolutely baffling final track “B.I.B.L.E.” – I’m not kidding. Rap fans can kind of sit around and evangelize Liquid Swords all day. Above and beyond all that, it just sounds cold, it’s an album that sounds amazing walking around at night, listening to Liquid Swords, grasping a hot rum and eggnog. If you haven’t tried it, do it. You’ll see what I mean. It’s just that simple.

Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Here’s another one I’ve already reviewed – though I don’t think that necessarily excuses me from including it here. Why not the other Nightwish albums, why not Oceanborn (your easy alternative if you, like many other fans, wholly-justifiably hate their new vocal direction). Imaginaerum is one of those albums I was reviewing a couple of Christmases ago – a time I spent a lot of time at home, playing Killing Floor near my window (like an adult.) and watching the snow come down. Lo and behold, what might otherwise have been something of a hammy record – if a brilliantly produced one – slowly grew on me, to the point that its Gothic theme-park aesthetic (intentionally wintery) gradually subsumed itself into my winter listening ritual-thing. “Taikatalvi” is still suitably eery, “Slow Love” still sounds like a sleazy(er?) Twin Peaks throwback, “Song of Myself” is still totally baffling. But there’s a grandiosity to its melodrama, and certainly to its production, that proves irresistible during this season. It’s very much Metal-if-Burton-had-gone-back-to-Disney, but in its own special way Imaginaerum is exhilarating and fun and oddly comforting – it’s a warm album, to contrast to nearly every other album on this list’s frigidity. To be listened to, preferably, while playing Killing Floor. Near a fireplace. To be avoided if you’re at all concerned about being kvlt.

Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth

Not only more faithful to Tolkein than Peter Jackson’s intepretations, but actually more faithful to Peter Jackson than Peter Jackson’s interpretations, I completely understand if you’re giggling at me right now while my metal cred slowly drips away. That’s fine, because if you’re in on this one, you know, man. “Nightfall“, “Blood Tears“, “When Time Stand Still (At the Iron Hill)” – I’m not kidding, this thing is The Silmarillion‘s Beowulf-ian logical conclusion, Tolkein as epic power-metal rock-opera, complete with questionable voice-acting and a reverse-order telling of Tolkein’s most notoriously-unread work. Absolutely it’s silly, it’s also the ultimate speed-metal soundtrack to your next Dark Souls session. If Marrow of the Spirit wants to sound like gurgling brooks and falling snow, Nightfall in Middle Earth is Skyrim, complete with the blizzards and bloodshed. Falling directly at the point between Blind Guardian’s speed-metal roots and their transformation into Queen Tribute Band it can be argued this is the best they ever got, and certainly the single best album 14 year-old Lucas could ever have hoped to discover. Just check all seriousness at the door and pick up your shield. They aren’t kidding, and neither am I. Nightfall.

Amebix – Sonic Mass

Yep, this one again from once-crust-Punks Amebix, if you wanted metal to restore your faith in dead-serious metal after Blind Guardian’s Tolkeinian romp, here you go. As dark and heavy as it is ponderous and forceful, Sonic Mass has been a favourite since the moment friend Ryeburg and I discovered it. An album to be listened to on dark nights while walking, Sonic Mass is ominous and empowering, a dark time-traveling saga whose story I have yet to wholly parse. Laser-sighted to strike at the heart of a metalhead’s pride, “Days” is a mortality-based tearjerker, “Sonic Mass” is a metal soundscape in two parts, “God of the Grain” collects gods throughout history under one crushing, danceable banner (and is as close to anything Christmas-y you’ll find here). Not bad for a bunch of old Crust Punks turned heavy-metallers turned retirees. They came out of the blue to release this album, and disappeared just as suddenly. Heavily, unironically recommended for you metalheads that haven’t heard it yet, Sonic Mass will be a late-night favourite here at The Nest for a long time to come.

Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain

Remember everything I said about Liquid Swords up there? All still true. Vaudeville Villain by, ahem, Viktor Vaughn aka Madvillain aka King Gheedorah aka DangerDoom aka Zev Love X aka JJ DOOM aka Mr. Clean aka MF DOOM aka Daniel Duhmile (and I’m sure I missed a couple) as a deeply weird, swept-under-the-rug sort of hip-hop album. Viktor Vaughn (as in, Victor Von Doom, as in Dr. Doom of Marvel fame) is MF Doom’s young hustler persona, still learning the ropes, and existing in a sort of topsy-turvy version of gangland New York, a vaguely surreal place in which old ladies carry heat and stick up their would-be attackers. Viktor is sort of crap at this whole hustler thing, and that comes out through his lyricism – and of course no one can carry wordplay quite like Mf Doom. Along with his plethora of producer buddies, Viktor Vaughn is also Mf Doom’s multi-collaborative project, working with anyone that supplies him with a sufficiently icy beat to rhyme over. And I suppose that’s why this one comes out when it gets cold outside – I’m not looking for the basement-warm comfort of an Mf Doom joint, nor the murkiness of the King Gheedorah project, or Madvillain’s summery and hazy weirdness – I want a guy out on the streets, trying to make ends meet, and who kind of sucks at it. And so Vaudeville Villain worms its way into the Christmastime playlist for the same reasons Liquid Swords does: it’s a rock solid hip-hop album bolstered by a strong anchor in weird and an utterly unique lyrical attraction. It also sounds real good out there in the cold, y’all.

Venetian Snares – My Downfall (Official Soundtrack)

It’s difficult to describe exactly what Aaron Funk is up to with his Venetian Snares project without forcing you to listen to it, so I suppose I’ll just do that. Crushing in its precision, but gorgeous in the way it utilizes classical under and overtones alongside its crashing waves of breakcore samples, My Downfall is as beautiful as it is intimidating, and my favourite album of his (amongst other reasons, because the soundtrack structure forces Funk into a kind of concision and sobriety he usually avoids). Not an easy listen, but in its own strange way a beautiful one, My Downfall is better experienced than explained. Wintery for the same reason I obsess over piano music during the holiday season, I suppose – it gives me that classical edge I crave without necessarily polluting it with Christmas-guilt, or pop nonsense, or religious affiliation. Classical Music for the musical nihilist during this, the holiday season.

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

If you’re wondering why this is on here, shame on you. Duh. I don’t need to explain a damn thing about The Charlie Brown Friggin Christmas Album – aka some of the finest jazz interpretations of Christmas music we ever got, alongside absolutely beautiful original compositions. Bonus points for including “Christmas Time Is Here”, one of the most unintentionally(?) heartbreaking holiday-season songs of all time. Nothing like it, before or after. (Except maybe “Christmas Is Interesting”).

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DJ Shadow – Endtroducing

Please, please listen to Endtroducing. This is almost on here as a charity thing, as I listen to it during long winter nights, yes, but also all other times of the year, provided the sun is down. Endtroducing is nothing more or less than my favourite album of all time, and I’m not kidding, and I won’t recall that for anything. Wait until you’re feeling quiet, calm, and maybe a little lonely. Let Endtroducing simultaneously exorcise and exacerbate your winter blues in the way only the best winter albums can. Cobbled entirely from samples, there’s nothing like it – take a look.

Afroman: Colt 45 Christmas

Like that relative you really don’t want to see, or that neighbour that just kind of… wanders over during your Christmas party, I can’t not include Colt 45 Christmas. I also sort of can’t explain Colt 45 Christmas. This is down here like a sort of gambit to see if you’ve read this far, to be honest (Hi Mom! Please don’t listen to Colt 45 Christmas, Mom!). It’s a classic, in its own awful way. I can’t not. I have to. And when I’m done, I whisper “I’m sorry” out into the world. To no one. To everyone.

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Yuletide TL;DR

So there you have it, friends and (now, no doubt) various foes! The sorts of things that end up on my ipod come Christmas, Holiday seasons. If it’s cold outside, so turns my taste to different sorts of music. Please, by all means, I advocate jumping on whatever your music-delivery service is and copping as many of these as necessary. Though far from exhaustive, I hope this list has given you people at least something new to chew on this Holiday season. Remember: just because you aren’t religious, just because you’re literally physically allergic to the sound of Michael Bublé’s voice, doesn’t mean there isn’t music out there that you can’t associate with the season. Because it’s still about the season, and maybe musical tokens, played annually, that can draw you back to that place – close to your family, dog, girlfriend, whatever – is a valuable thing.

Feel free to share your own, here or on the Facebook thing. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming as soon as the Holidays relent their icy grip on my time.

Happy Holidays 2013 y’all. Thanks for sticking around.

– Transylvanilla

Oh I forgot to mention Chopin. Yeah, listen to as much Chopin as possible. Have a loved one nearby.

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Akira The Don – Saturnalia Superman: Akira The Don Salutes the Majesty of Christmas

Hey, Adam Narkiewicz came out with another LP today (okay, yesterday), less than three months after his last one! And he’s dropped it right in the middle of Saturnalia itself, how thematically appropriate! I don’t have to go through the walkthrough this time: if you love Akira’s stuff, and you have to be a special kind of person to do this, you will have a big silly grin on your face for much of Saturnalia Superman. It’s as simply as that: fans can’t not cackle at the Nutcracker Suite sample on “Jimmy Savile Swag”, they can’t not smile at the album’s opener “A Very Merry Ho Ho Ho” when he wishes his  mother and father “and their new respective partners” a very merry Christmas. He’s infectious and ineffably positive, and the cult of personality is in full effect – even when Saturnalia Superman takes some surprisingly thoughtful and unconventional twists towards the end.

Musically, Akira’s in control on this one: he covers a good 90% of the verses this time around, flipping between the feel-good hollering of “A Very Merry Ho Ho Ho” and his trademark political flows on “Ha Satan” with ease (on what might be his most politically-charged track since “Thanks for All the AIDS“). “Jimmy Savile Swag” (Westerners, go wiki who that is) rides that hard-leaning two-step beat everyone loves these days, and Akira’s infatuation with autotune continues make an appearance. Its presence is most obviously  felt on the eyebrow-raising Envy feature “Sexmas”, which is entertaining and meandering and ends with Envy reminding us she’s “going to heat it up like a Mincemeat pie” amongst other bizarre Christmas-related sex-threats (“wrap you up with Fairy Lights, it’s gonna be good”). As on ATD 26, while autotune rears its blocky head every couple of tracks, it’s very clearly a stylistic decision: Akira’s (and Envy’s) voice flutters, it bounces around, and unlike so much autotuning it’s no attempt to fake anyone’s way into opera-level virtuosity. It’s a level of honesty and earnestness that Akira brings to all his work these days, and as on his other albums it goes hard at work, grounding Saturnalia Superman and providing a great deal of his appeal.

Clanging bells and other Christmas jolliness pervade this album (“A Christmas Movie”), but it isn’t without its surprises: most of Akira’s version of “Bleak Midwinter” is a surprisingly heartfelt vocal duet by Akira’s Cornish Welsh in-laws, proceeding a cappella before the piano, flute and strings kick in and set off what eventually builds into the album’s most beautiful track. “Bleak Midwinter” falls mid-album, and precedes another nine-and-a-half minute surprise: “17 Year Old Blonde Girl And A Bottle of Acid”, featuring a man named Issue, who really cannot sing (thankfully, he seems to know this). Like its title might suggest, it’s a trip: what begins as an odd bit of hood-meandering by Issue quickly breaks down into a heartbreaking ode to a forgotten female trip-mate, delivered by Akira himself. The album’s greatest and most sobering moment, it’s a strange and thought-provoking piece, sprawling its narrative across several harrowing minutes and telling a story that isn’t always easy to hear. When Akira tells us that he’s opening Christmas presents with his mum and little brother and the “wrapping paper seem[s] to crawl up [his] arm like tentacles” the psychedelic imagery combines with our notions of Christmas’s assumed innocence to shock and disorient the listener. It’s extremely effective stuff, and lends heavy dosage of reality to the typical Christmas Album format.  In a sense, all of Saturnalia Superman follows this model: simultaneously celebrating the holiday season (and life!) while offering thoughtful reminders of its reality – murder, drugs, rampant commercialism and Akira’s trademark resolution to carry on (closer “In The Morning”) all make appearances here.

Of course, Saturnalia Superman wouldn’t manage to be an ATD LP if it didn’t somehow pull off being a party, even in its bleakest moments. It isn’t his most consistent album – much of his merry band of thieves is missing (can we imagine Christmas Big Narstie? Let’s.) – but Saturnalia Superman can’t help being an enjoyable time, even in its more experimental and meandering moments. Another solid entry in the ATD catalogue (though not strictly ATD 27), Saturnalia Superman is supremely topical during the season, and offers several tracks destined to prove their staying power in the Akira catalogue. It goes by quickly, a widely various series of Christmas-themed sketches in the life of one more dude trying to get by. It’s an Xmas album for people that live in the real world, who’ve had experiences, that aren’t much for major commercialism and don’t know what to think about God but know they like hip-hop and spending time with their folks. How much more can we ask for for Christmas than that?

7.5

Bonus Level:

Saturnalia Superman As a Christmas Album is a grand triumph, intelligent, heartfelt and earnest. As a simultaneous lover and critic of the Christmas season, this sort of thing really does it for me. I do love it, but in the above review I had to acknowledge its faults. As a big Akira fan and a big Christmas fan, though, I have to say this is definitely going to be spinning all holiday season. Much more interesting, dense and listenable than any Christmas album I’ve heard in years. Highly recommended. 

Based solely as a Yuletide experience, Saturnalia Superman gets a  coveted 4.5/5 baubles. Do with that as you will.  

Akira the Don provides many of his services over the internet: his website is here, and he would love it very much if you’d cop a free listen off the stream, and then buy yourself some copies. 

Originally published right here, December 2011. 

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