Whenever anything Sigur Rós-related happens, I pay attention. Earlier this week I learned that the band’s lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, has a solo album called “Go” coming out early next year; even better, string arrangements on the album are courtesy of contemporary classical wunderkind Nico Muhly (whose must-read blog contains brilliant and hilarious observations about music and pop culture, by the way). “Boy Lilikoi” is the first track available from the album, and in a gesture befitting the holidays it’s available for free download.
Liliko’i are yellow passion fruit, and while I don’t know if that’s what Birgisson had in mind when he wrote the song, he totally evokes their vivid, extraordinary beauty.
The Magnetic Fields are one of my favorite bands. I’ve picked ‘Busby Berkeley Dreams’ off the album ‘69 Love Songs’ because it’s one of my favorite songs. To me it reflects the spirit of the Christmas season because it conjures up the glamour of Christmas parties, events and shows - here in New York everyone is headed to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall - in a dreamy, wistful, romantic, melancholic way, which I think is also how a lot of people feel around Christmas!
I’ve chosen this song not just because of its sorta lyrically implicit Christmas theme (nativity story-ish), but because it’s a homage to Rod Temperton’s songwriting brilliance during his time with the Heatwave collective and, chiefly, gives you an inkling of the kind of inspiration he had in waiting before he wrote a shedload of Michael Jackson records (“Rock with You”, “Off the Wall”, “Burn This Disco Out”, “Baby Be Mine”, “The Lady in My Life”, “Thriller”). This season draws an end to the year in which the King of Pop has died (yet no re-releases from the Jackson 5 Christmas Album?!), and if like me you wish to remember him musically for those Quincy Jones days, then you’ll love the winter warming production and soothing strings in this.
So this is my little tribute to the hidden genius behind the greatest artist of all time.
How could anyone not love Dean Martin’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas? Few voices are so evocative of a feeling and a time of year. From the glazed ham to the bacon-basted turkey to the chinking of the ice cubes against a glass as we sway our way through Christmas sing-a-longs, Dean Martin captures that fireside, wooly-sweatered, laden-tabled feeling of Christmas. The very fact that he doesn’t rush the lyrics but rather wanders through each of the notes captures that rare time of year in which we can all linger a little bit longer at the family table or in front of a fire rather than rush headlong to the next ‘To Do’ that, like seconds on a clock, mark the rests of our year.
Dean also evokes what is, perhaps, a now lost time of Christmas when the world was, consciously or not, a little more naïve, a little less transparent, a little less fearful of harsh realities. It was an ideal time, or at least idealized, but still safer in the way that Christmas makes us feel safe.
The rich texture of his voice captures the ornate experience that is the Christmas ceremony. His inimitable style speaks of classy affairs and his ever-present wink reminds us that, ultimately, Christmas is always just about good times with friends, family and people we love.
To me, this song epitomizes that familiar, comfortable and lazy haze that overwhelms us all after a great meal, a drink or two and the company of family spending meaningful time together.
A beautiful and strange little song about the awkwardness of Christmas. I don’t speak French, but the lyrics seem to be about waiting for your lover while seeking comfort in a piece of cheese and a coffee and watching busy people carry heaps of gifts under their arms. Perfect scenario for Saturday the 6th of December! The album can be downloaded for free at Jamendo
It is inevitable to think about what the future holds around this time of the year. Many of us return to that familiar place and fall into a slump of regret remembering all of the things we dreamed of doing the year before. This year, make some ‘big jumps’.
the priestess and the fool - fairytale of new york
Today’s track is curated by Brian Ibbott, producer of the Coverville podcast
For me, there are two fantastic holiday tunes that are the music equivalent of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. That is to say, if they come up in shuffle any time of year, I’ll still listen all the way through - even if it’s in the heat of summer. Those two songs are “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and “Fairytale Of New York”. And not only was I trying to decide between the two songs, I was trying to decide which version to include. While I love the honey-sweet vocals of Zooey Deschanel on her and Leon Redbone’s cover of “Baby…”, I decided to go with a cover of “Fairytale…” that infuses enough of the original with an even more Irish feel, this version by The Priestess and The Fool from their 2008 Holiday EP, Ride On, Santa.
Shivers by The Boys Next Door, a pre-Birthday Party Nick Cave band. A bit of a counter-intuitive Christmas tune. It’s my favourite ever love song, partly because it opens with the line: “I’ve been contemplating suicide…”. We used to play it in an ’80s band I used to be in and I first heard it at Christmas in Australia when I was 19. So there you go.
Today’s track is curated by Mel Exon, co-founder of BBH Labs
A wonderful collaboration between the composer Ennio Morricone and singer songwriter Joan Baez, this song features on the album Sacco e Vanzetti, written for Giuliano Montaldo’s 1971 film of the same name.
It’s a very special, all-too-short track: from its quiet beginning, the music builds in pure, uplifting celebration as Baez’s rousing lyrics repeat. It is also a poignant tribute to a pair of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which somehow appeals to me.
Perfect for the holidays, play it as loudly as your family and friends can bear.