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.
Clocking in at just under half an hour, Milwaukee-based Collections of
Colonies of Bees recorded a lyric-less gem in their latest offering,
“Giving,” strong enough an effort to challenge the current incumbents
Explosions in the Sky as our best post-rock build-up instrumental band.
How’s that, you figure? Well, COCOB’s taken instrumental post-rock where it needs to go by completely eliminating all the typical boring moments from their formula. “Giving” is a short album that’s constantly barreling forward and never stalled out by a single breakdown or pause, ethereal jam session, or instrumental solo.
Even when the guitars, so effervescent and ubiquitous, drop out as they do near the end of “Lawns,” Jon Mueller’s drums take their place. Mueller marches along at the same steady pace while the band offers their vocals for once, oohing and ehhing in a funny, but compelling arrangement completely devoid of distinguishable words.
Chris Rosenau’s guitar riffage is constant in the album’s four movements, only finally terminating whenever a track is finished, usually playing much faster than when it began. COCOB have recorded, with a barrage of sunshine-through-water-sounding guitars and plinky-dink percussion and electronic instruments, the sound of a runner’s energy expended mid-race. He accelerates and occasionally decelerates, but is always moving forward in his trial for first-place glory.
Listening to “Giving” suggests that the band might have even rubbed off on Volcano Choir co-conspirator and fellow Wisconsin-scener Justin Vernon’s new sound in a good way. Perhaps their keen sense of accelerated pacing helped cut a path for two of Bon Iver’s strongest tracks. While listening to this album, I’m reminded of the cataclysmic bass saxophone girth of “Perth” and the carefully climactic arrangement of “Holocene.” So COCOB earns bonus points for “giving” (sorry) Vernon the influence.
This more-aggressive formula, toned with both radiant collapses and crescendos, makes for a great half-hour of listening that reaches for awe-inspiring heights and tremendous explosive sounds. Kind of like a fireworks display. Wait, isn’t that what explosions in the sky are? —Matt Carney