Imagine the spectrum of Christmas cheer as a gleaming peppermint-striped continuum that runs between Buddy the Elf on one end and Ebenezer Scrooge at the other. I lie somewhere about three quarters toward the Scrooge end, right about where Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie from Bad Santa rests. I do genuinely love the holidays, but as we are wont to do in the ol’ U.S. of A, we completely overdo it. The stoking of Christmas spending fires begins earlier and earlier each year, it seems. By the time gifts are exchanged on the big day, we are swollen and choking like Gluttony from the movie Se7en – ghastly corpulent from being force-fed cheap plastic consumer-centric holiday spirit for six straight weeks.
By far the most stealthy and ubiquitous form of subconscious yuletide face-stuffing is Christmas music. I suppose there are those who still can’t get enough of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and the doesn’t-age-too-well-post-#metoo, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that obediently pop into heavy rotation each year after Thanksgiving. But some of us have a blacker heart than your average Hobby Lobby clerk. We may still want to get in the mood for the season, but we crave something a little darker than “Frosty the Snowman.” Thankfully, over the years our scene has served up some minor-key seasonal songs for those whose Christmas captain has more in common with Morrissey than Bing Crosby. Here are some local melancholy holiday tunes to ensure you have your best “Blue Christmas.”
“The Last Carol” –– The Cush. This beautiful winter hymn was gifted to fans by the dream-pop foursome six years ago. The tranquil track begins with a droning electric organ that recalls a sleepy winter wind under shimmering waves of synth and subtle digital bleeps that bring a picture of icicles and creeping frost in your mind before a delicate acoustic guitar strums the verse. Husband/wife duo Burette and Gabrielle Douglas’ whisper-soft vocals redden listener’s cheeks by adding warmth to the icy world they’ve created, leading into a climbing angelic refrain of “Hallelujah” amid a stunning crescendo of splendidly noisy guitars.
“Christmas Time is Is Here” –– Tame … Tame and Quiet. The mathy indie-rock elder statesmen cut this funereal take on the Vince Guaraldi classic from A Charlie Brown Christmas last year. Sullen jazz chords sweep back and forth as singer/guitarist Aaron Bartz leads a choir of friends and family through nostalgic whimsy throughout the verses. The song breaks with a haunting horn section scored by artist/composer James Talambas and features notable players such as Chuck Brown (Telegraph Canyon, Andy Pickett Band), Chris Curiel (Swirve), Austin Kroll (Jake Paleschic), and The Good Show’s Tom Urquhart.
“My Favorite Things” –– Lindby (ft. The Hendersons). For their fifth Christmas music collection, eclectic rock/jazz/pop/everything outfit Lindby recruited ’60s psych-folk rockers The Hendersons for a collaboration. The standout from the four-song EP of mostly sanguine and festive tunes is this spin on another vintage Christmas staple. The Hendersons’ Nolan Robertson gives proper due to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic with his tender command of the song’s memorable and always-a-bit-creepy-for-a-Christmas-song melody.
“I Do Dear, I Do” –– Brock Miller. Local guitar-man Brock Miller (Andy Pickett Band) just recently posted this take on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ morose ballad. Miller’s melodic Tele mastery seizes much-deserved focus, brightly penetrating the track’s midnight-dark reverb-drenched vibe. Miller’s vulnerable voice gives weight to Cave’s somber lyrics about the begrudging holiday well-wishing of a past lover.
“Execution by Christmas Lights” –– Flickerstick. Nothing says “happy holidays” like an absolutely heart-crushing, tear-streaming, six-minute epic emotional journey. On this closer from 2001’s Welcoming Home the Astronauts, distant and needling Morse code signals are a backdrop to sparse and echo-laden guitar as vocalist Brandin Lea delivers a masterful full-throated primal lament. At the halfway point, thumping kick drum pumps below crawling bass and choral synths as the song slowly builds into a satisfying cascading climactic release into distorted feedback.