Anthony D'Amato, Brent Seavers, Christmas Aguilera, Christmas music, Daryl Bean, Holiday music, Jane's Party, Jeremy and the Harlequins, Joel Paterson, Make Like Monkeys, Odds, Ronnie Spector, Scoopski, Shybits, Superchunk, The Essex Green, The Orion Experience, The Surf School Dropouts
Things got a bit out of hand for Santa this year at the Reindeer Games. It started with too much rum and eggnog at breakfast and, well, you get the picture. Still, this year’s annual musical celebration of the season is back, vibing all the key warm and fuzzies of the holiday: anticipation, desire, tradition and joy. Let’s take up each, in song.
That holiday music machine Make Like Monkeys are now my go-to source for any and every kind of seasonal single. Need a Mersey-drenched bit of poprock to bring your holiday and dating into focus? Can do. “Please Don’t Let Christmas Come Without You Girl” sounds so Beatles-derivative beat-group circa 1964. And I love it. The Essex Green offer up an Everly Brothers-worthy slice of late sixties country rock, making peace with a “Green Christmas.” The heavenly guitars and layered background vocals on this track are all I need under the tree. Seasonal songsters Christmas Aguilera sound like they’re auditioning for a ‘I hate the holidays’ telethon what with all the disaster accompanying their yuletide plans in “All Wrapped Up.” But the subtext to all the apparent chaos seems to be a grudging, recognizable family kind of love. And the tune is a real winner too, chock full of hooks and harmony vocals. Proceeds from this help the campaign to end homelessness and poor housing in the UK. Daryl Bean delivers an eerie XTC-ish paean to the anticipation of the season on “Holidaze.” You’d swear there’s a Partridge in his pear tree.
Turning to desire Toronto’s Jane’s Party capture the youthful sense of really wanting to get that specific something at Xmas with “I Want It Bad.” And they deliver it with it a bit Motown swing. The Decibels’ Brent Seavers delivers a retro sounding classic holiday tune with “I Want You for Xmas,” complete with addictive ‘fa la la la la’s’ to really reel you in. I can’t decide if Frank Royster sounds more like Fastball or The Smithereens on his fab holiday track “Christmas is Fun.” Whichever, the song sounds like a slick bit of 1980s poprock magic. Turning to tradition, rock and roll traditionalists Jeremy and the Harlequins add a heflt of solid rock backing to “White Christmas” to shake things up. I don’t know how much Superchunk owe to Dylan Thomas but their “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is hooky and jangly and the that’s good enough for me. It’s hard to add much to that holiday rock and roll classic “Jingle Bell Rock” but premiere guitar instrumentalist Joel Paterson manages to inject some of his special, unique playing style into the song. Old dogs, new tricks indeed!
Feeling swamped by the crass commercialism of capitalist Christmas? This year don’t puzzle till your puzzler is sore about it. As the Grinch said, “Christmas, perhaps, is a little bit more.” Like hope, and peace, and joy. Berlin’s Shybits accent the hope on “Hope This Christmas,” a chaotic swirl of Futureheads meets The Spook School indie-pop seasonal goodnesss. The pop incomparable Orion Experience wield a serious joy stick on their seasonally-appropriate, all-you-need-is-love ode “Rich Man’s Holiday.” As they sing it, you don’t need money when ‘your love is the greatest gift in the world.’ Then there’s the peaceful easy feeling that flows from Scoopski’s new Christmas classic “Your First Christmas.” The husband and wife duo sing about their actual recent baby, a stand in for the joy that every baby anywhere can bring to a hopefully peaceful world.
And yet is wouldn’t be the holidays without mixed feelings. It’s a tough season for so many. Some with or without family, with or without faith. Anthony D’Amato captures that holiday ennui on “Merry Christmas, I Guess.” Not sad, exactly. More lonely. All wrapped up in a musical pretty paper that sounds like the pedal-steel country blues. By contrast, The Surf School Dropouts won’t suffer in silence. They utilize their Beach Boys-vocals to call out to the jolly plus-size guy himself on “Help Me Santa.” Vancouver’s Odds have got a clever plan to deal with all the garbage this season produces, both emotional and physical. While the mall marketing people say ‘more! more!’ they have Santa telling voters to share the gift of love with ‘neighbour and your honey.’ We lost the legendary girl group pioneer Ronnie Spector this past year. Right to the end she was radiating joy and goodwill to all. In terms of her long career “Best Christmas Ever” is a fairly recent release but one that captures everything great about her enduring talent and style.
It’s almost a wrap here at this annual Reindeer Games. Let’s go out looking for that star that will help lead us where we need to go in the days ahead. My new favourite one-stop-shopping seasonal music provider Make Like Monkeys can provide the accompaniment with “Star.”
Merry ho ho to all and to all a goodnight!
Top photo courtesy Kevin Dooley.