“I’ll be anything you want of me,” Gareth Campesinos! sings with conviction on “A Doe to a Deer”, then offers, “an angel teetering atop a tree, vomiting from vertigo!” It’s not a line you expect from a Christmas song—it’s not really a line you’d expect from any song about trying to win over a lover’s heart. But its silly Debbie Downer-tone bares some truth: Christmas is a holiday full of romantic promise, but it also has its sour side. This honesty comes courtesy of Los Campesinos!’s latest, a six-track EP of yuletide goodness (and sadness) that brings together three holiday singles the band has released over the past few years, along with two covers and a new track.
The Christmas songs are chock-full of holiday imagery: deer run rampant, life is lined with tinsel, and baby Jesus makes a few appearances. A band that has always favored texture, Los Campesinos! make these songs brassy and jangling in all the right places—their love affair with the glockenspiel is right at home. And throughout the record, the band conveys the typical holiday mix of Christmas emotions: sentimentalism, desperation, and loneliness. If George Michael is giving his heart to someone special, lead singer and songwriter Gareth is bitterly trying to force his heart back upon whoever initially tossed it.
Sometimes the band tackles these feelings with a welcome smirk. “A Doe to a Deer”, here in a shinier version than the one they released back in 2012, is a cheeky, dramatic proclamation of love, one that has Gareth shape-shifting into everything from annoying sleet to security footage of a drunk Santa at the mall. Then there’s the equally impassioned “Kindle a Flame in Her Heart”, with a resilient Gareth greedily swallowing coal and begging to be swaddled in his lovers’ arms.
These holiday songs are neither sad-sack nor hyper-cheerful; they’d find good company next to the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” or even the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” in their mix of cynicism and traditional Christmas narrative. The holiday music landscape could stand to lose a few of the retro covers and pile on a little more bleakness and humor. Gareth’s songwriting has always excelled in the dark arts of self-deprecation and crucifying exes, and hearing it in this setting is like sitting next to a sarcastic teenage cousin at the Christmas dinner table—refreshing, albeit unconventional.
But even when Los Campesinos! aren’t getting overtly snarky, the melancholy woven throughout the album makes for beautiful Christmas music in a more familiar sense, from the soulful rendition of Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas” to “The Trains Don’t Run (It’s Christmas Day)”. A folksy cover of the old British carol “The Holly & the Ivy”, which features Rob Taylor on vocals, sounds out of place on the album, but that’s understandable given that it was once released on its own. As a standalone track, it’s gorgeous, but it’s also a testament to how well the Los Campesinos! angst works in this context.
Christmas can sometimes be an incubator for loneliness, magnifying the distance between families, friends, and partners. This is a holiday that makes people kiss if they’re caught standing under a plant; people really want romance to thrive. A Los Campesinos! Christmas is a record for those who want to spin a seasonal record that’s both crushingly isolated and humorously self-aware.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1qhig8n