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.
Named for the fabulously hairy and rotund, The 2 Bears hail in part from
the London DJ scene. This brash and unapologetic dance duo knows how to
do one thing: Get you in their paws and never let go.
Hot Chip backup vocalist and synthesizer-er Joe Goddard started The 2 Bears with Raf Rundell in 2009. Their debut, Be Strong, offers a unique variety of styles ranging from dance to pop to country, all segued by the subtlest of transitions. It's an impressive balancing act, one which maintains the attention of the listener without overwhelming with gaudy politics or elaborate crescendos.
This record’s strengths lie in its two singles, "Work" and "Bear Hug." The former reveals Goddard's ability with the keys, pounding away with an optimistic hook and hackle; "We gonna work / Work harder / For each other / For the future."
The Bears play catch from verse to chorus and back, allowing Rundell some time to shine in this song, but his true talent is in his habitual talk-singing, featured most prominently on my favorite track, which — you may have guessed — is “Bear Hug.” It's as trance as dance can be, and so hypnotic, it's addictive. My library counted this song played 75 times – the numerous remixes omitted – but this infectious minimalism isn't for everyone; see for yourself in the video below.
For its riotous first act, Be Strong is remarkably cynical in the late game. Contemplations of mortality, regret and the pursuits of the heart season the back half, and although the content feels less prime, the playful sincerity of The 2 Bears serves to fill out the raw bits.
Be Strong holds the rather unremarkable status of being my favorite record of 2012; however, I hold some confidence that come December, I'll still be happy to have a “Bear Hug.”