Christmas Playlist

Okay. I am now firmly gripped in the clutches of Christmas, and I won’t be escaping any time before Boxing Day!

I’d considered putting up some esoteric posts about whether fishmongery is art or bemoaning the overuse of teal in church website banners, but even I couldn’t be that obtuse. It’s Christmas in under a week so my one goal this week is to help you get in the Christmas mood.

It’s great that this year more than ever, there are artists we’re connected with who are queuing up to prepare you for the big day.

First up, the playlist! Pretty important I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m happy to say that for the first time ever, I’ve managed to see Sufjan Stevens’ 4 CD Christmas album through from start to finish. This is either creative progress or the sign that I have passed some sort of point of no return.

For me, Zang productions’ 2008 classic ‘A Zang Christmas’ is still my benchmark Christmas carol album. But this year, both of these albums are getting a run from their money from within the Sputnik stable.

First up, Christchurch Manchester have put together a very pleasant EP of carols. Very pleasant indeed!

For anyone who has been around Sputnik for a while, all I need to say to pique your interest is that the brilliant Michael Bradley (welldoneyou, PERENDIZ) is heavily involved. As I see it, Michael is a master of making music that, while it has a pop polish, consistently houses genuine chaos. There are a whole load of others involved here for sure, but this EP is in the trademark Bradley vein. It’s produced, engineered and arranged excellently and on first listen might remind you of Maroon 5 on a more rocky day. However a more careful listen will highlight the ominous threat that lies underneath ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and the frenzied guitars and drums that just about remain contained in ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’. It will be great to see how Christchurch Manchester build on this with some promised original releases this year (we’ll keep you posted).

However good this EP is though, I can’t resist pointing you towards Mr Bradley’s seasonal magnum opus (in this case under the guise of Captain Pinball) from last year. This is what happens when the chaos is allowed full rein. Believe it or not, in the Mellor household this song has been played most weeks this year and consistently sends all 3 of our children into a blind frenzy (in a good way) whether it’s December or July. This is the sound of genius!

Okay. If you have the good taste and endurance to make it to the end of that, it’s likely that you will now see the world in a different light from this point onwards, but you may temporarily need a bit of a rest. Cue Joanna Karselis.

We highlighted Jo’s excellent ‘Oceans’ release a couple of weeks ago, well she has followed that up with a charity single, a reworking of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ and a beautiful instrumental piece, composed for Oasis Church, Birmingham’s carol service.

On ‘In The Town Of Bethlehem or In The Bleak Midwinter’ Jo’s distinctive, pining voice sits snugly on a bed of piano and violin (Jo too!) and it all adds up to a very worthwhile variation on the old carol classic.

‘Joy’ may lack the vocals or the safe familiarity of a carol cover, but it would be a perfect intro or interlude track on a carol mix CD. On first listen, the title may seem odd, as there is definitely a melancholy feel about this instrumental track, but as you go with it, you’ll get it. This is not ‘happiness’ or ‘jolliness’, this is ‘joy’, and rippling up from beneath the reflective synth arrangement is a sense of hopeful determination that leaves you feeling strangely contented. Joyful even.

So much so that you’ll probably now be ready for more Captain Pinball. And then more.

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