Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Baltimore, Md. is so very rich with quality music right now. Bands like
Beach House, Wye Oak and Animal Collective (AC relocated to NYC, but
some of their first media coverage came from Baltimore City Paper) have established themselves as national-caliber indie acts with large-scale sounds to boot.
Small Sur sounds nothing like any of these bands. Literally, nothing. They’ll probably never achieve the same level of notoriety, which is very sad. They’ve recorded the most beautiful, lovely slowcore folk music these ears have ever heard, but unfortunately, that particular sub-genre isn’t in high demand among audiences much larger than what could fill an upscale living room.
“Tones” is as lovely an exercise in hushed, sparse production and small-detail storytelling as you’ll find these days. Each song sets an intimate scene that would belong at home in a literary novel. “Meet me under trees / Golden canopy,” Bob Keal whispers amid his and Andy Abelow’s rich guitar and horn arrangements. “How I Love You” tells a grown-up romance in as few words as “babies teething.”
Keal’s songwriting comes through in traditional poetic devices, most typified in “Three Haiku,” a sad, autumn plodder that features a flute and the lyrics “I cannot find you.” True to its title, the album sets a tone and allows the listener room to imagine his or her own story within it.
Doing more with less. Few are telling more developed, personal and intimate stories than Small Sur are right now. —Matt Carney