Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Music that Doesn't Make You Groan

Lots of Christmas music does make me groan--sentimental, commercial, "jolly", yuck. I would usually skip over a post that said "Christmas Music", espcially if it had anything to do with Santa or rockin around the tree or all that crap--any of that overproduced, saccharine schmaltz that is basically muzac for Christmas( although I love lots of classical Christmas pieces)--. But I ask you--yes, you who might even be as cynical as me--to stop and listen to a few refreshing Christmas offerings.
First, a trip back to Sunday School with Half Handed Cloud in these bubbly songs full of childlike wonder and faith:

The * That Moved Around the Nightmp3
Asian Meteorologists Predicted the Heavens to Snow-down a Child to Us (Plant a little Fir Tree) mp3

Next, a lovely reworking of a Christmas classic from Pedro the Lion. Bazan poignantly depicts the co-existence of faith and doubt, thus emphasizing the reality of the human condition. Check out these lyrics:"Now my wife and children dream of gifts beneath the tree/ While I place in the manger baby Jesus figurine/ Sipping Christmas whiskey wondering if I still believe/ Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemenmp3

Okay, I wasn't going to include Sufjan because EVERYONE includes Sufjan and perhaps we are all sick of it. But I just had to come back and edit this post to include this song. "That was the Worst Christmas Ever" is one of the most real, touching Christmas songs I have ever heard. This picture of hope and redemption in the midst of a very dysfunctional family situation speaks reality into the plasticized notions of sentimental, hunky dory pictures of Christmas gatherings depicted in most Christmas related rhetoric. For many people, family harmony and vacuum packed faith are not the reality of Christmas--but Sufjan emphasizes the brokenness, of a family, of an individual, that needs some sort of healing. Listen to the words. For some folks, Christmas is not a happy time. Maybe a great deal of this is due to the fact that the falsified notions of peace, love, and joy embodied in plastic smiles and jolly music highlight the pain of family dischord, questions about faith, the hardness of life. This song does not ignore the hardships,pain, and dysfunction and emphasizes that this is exactly the real reason for Christmas. Part of the strange appeal of Sufjan's music is the constant inclusion of a violence of sorts--physical violence, violence of relationships, of words, of expectations that haven't been met. This tends to offfset the soft, breathy voice, calling attention to the consistent presence of both beauty and pain that is the disturbing mixture of our real lives: "Silent night, holy night; silent night, nothing feels right."..."In time the snow will rise, In time the snow will rise/ In time the Lord will rise, In time the Lord will rise."
I believe in this hope, a hope that doesn't ignore what seems hopeless.

That was the Worst Christmas Ever mp3

Lastly, here is a little surprise treat (although not a video of amazing quality) from the Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers:

Oh---One more thing!!
Another reminder that for more music of this general ragtag, creative sort, don't forget to purchase the compilation Peace on Earth which includes Christmas offerings from Michael Nau, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Prayers and Tears, David Karsten Daniels, Rosie Thomas and many others. It is only 7 bucks and ALL of that money goes to Toys for Tots. It is only available until Christmas on this blog.

**Okay, so I have another edit/addition. I just found out that there is a free Christmas Collection over at the blog for Sounds Familyre records. These folks--including Danielson, Half Handed Cloud, and Soul Junk among others have given us this little free gift. Check it out! The cool thing is that they are adding a song a day for 12 days--they have added a Sufjan number since I originally posted this.

Okay, that really is it! Please let me know what you think about all this stuff, especially the interesting lyrical content of most.


Kurt said...

wonderful! thank you... I am known for making my christmas mix cds every year and I'm always searching for more (good) xmas music to include on them... you just gave me some great new ones for next year's mix!

Michael Kendall said...

good to see you dig pedro; hes on of my all-time favorites. Thanks for the presentation of alternative choices for yuletide jams, I too grow weary of the traditional junk pretty easily.

John B. said...

Thank you in particular for the Sufjan track. I was the last person not to have heard that song, so consider your work done now.

Bill Donovan said...

I enjoyed reading what you had to say about Christmas, and I liked listening to the music. Very cool post, I also liked all the edits, haha.

I found you through Brandon Buckners Blog.

Bill Donovan said...

Mary, lets exchange links.

"" said...

Amen... and a halleleuya for all the source photos. Its a great collection.

Scott said...

Mary - I remember you well from L'Abri, and it was a pleasant surprise to find this blog of yours. I wish you well, and hope that you drop me an email sometime. - Scott A. Chiasson -