Jars of Clay- Christmas Songs, and Mindy Smith- My Holiday

Jars of Clay- Christmas Songs

Quality: 4

Clean: 5

Genre: Christmas, alternative, rock

I haven’t kept up with Jars of Clay that much since their first release in 1995. They have been prolific since then however and carved out a little niche for themselves in the alternative-Christian sector. Their Christmas album, Christmas, Songs, was released in 2007 but I didn’t pick it up until the end of the season last year, so didn’t really listen to it until this year.

One of the ways I personally try to keep Christmas fresh and meaningful is to pick a favorite Christmas carol every year. I do this by listening to the words of the carol, thinking about them and celebrating the truth that is contained within them the entire season. Past favorites have been O Holy Night, and Come Oh Come Emanuel. I seem to like the dark reminder that the reason Jesus was born was because of sin. Remembering sin and its ugliness helps me truly celebrate the hope of Jesus’ birth. This year, as I listened to Jars of Clay’s rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I was struck by the modern reminder of sin and hope. I had never paid attention to the words, especially the second verse,  until I was reading the liner notes to this album.

In despair I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of  peace on earth good will to men,
of peace on earth good will to men,
of peace on earth good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, good will to men.

I was struck with what a common thought this must be among people. That there is no peace and hate is strong, but that Christmas presents an answer, a hope for us all to cling to.

After listening closely to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I read the back of the liner notes jacket: In the Christmas Season, here are ways to celebrate peace in the midst of chaos (insert list of charities), and I realized that this was their theme: Peace in the midst of chaos. Instead of putting a smattering of Christmasy songs together to make a buck, JOC had actually put thought into the album, had come up with a theme, and most of the songs represented that theme. Peace is Here, In the Bleak Midwinter, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, even God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There is a fair share of just plain fun songs, for example: Hibernation song. But for the most part the album is reminding us that there is peace in the midst of chaos.

The music of this album is characteristic of JOC, containing a hint of strings, solid guitar and percussion, and even some Christmasy sounding bells/chimes at parts. There is a balance between organic real instruments and electronic elements. In the Bleak Midwinter is a highlight musically as it contains a beautiful horn part. Drummer Boy is also a hit with its minimal drum beats at the begging and then climaxing with a really fun snare part in the second half of the song. JOC keep the album interesting but not too crazy. It would be appropriate to put on for the rents and even g-rents.

Christmas Songs has been my favorite Christmas album this year, and I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone who likes Christmas music.

Mindy Smith- My Holiday

Quality: 3

Clean: 4

Genre: Christmas, folk, alt-country

Mindy Smith’s My Holiday is another “new to me” release from 2007. I normally like her style. Its a little country, but not too much for a non-country fan like me to be put off. Its more folky, which I like. Her voice and lyrics are sweet. My Holiday however didn’t sound Christmasy to me. It could have been any other album, it was a little too country and a little too bland. I didn’t pick up on a theme, which always increases my enjoyment, and the songs were more just fun, sugary, happy happy.

My favorite song would probably be the forlornly sung The Christmas Song because it sounds the most like a Christmas song with strong piano and jazzy percussion and even a clarinet solo.

It is a nice album, but I haven’t played it much. It doesn’t stand out in my Christmas album collection but I’ll play it a few times each year.

Best of 2008

I’ve kind of taken a break from the blog for the past month. I like listening to cheesy Christmas music which doesn’t necessarily warrant reviews. This year I enjoyed two new Christmas albums (new to me, they were both 2007 releases): Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs, and Mindy Smith’s My Holiday. All this to say, I don’t have any new reviews at the moment, and my music budget is spent for a few weeks…But I always like to do a year-end review. So here I have my favorite albums and songs of 2008:

Best albums of 2008:

1. Son Lux, At War with Walls and Mazes

By far my favorite album of the year.

2. Lecrae, Rebel

Christian rap was introduced to me for the first time this year and it changed my perspective on music.

3. Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks

Despite the criticism West received for this album and even my own hesitations, it remains tops in my mind for its unconventional yet accessible attitude and sound.

4. Cold Play, Viva la Vida, or Death and all His Friends

5. Nothing stands out. I could put the Twilight soundtrack, or Fireflight’s Unbreakable, but while they are good…they just don’t stick out in my mind. I guess I only have a top 4.

Best Songs of 2008:

1. Black is the Color (DJQ’s Club Edit),  2Devine vs Cara Dillon

This might seem random to you unless you know me in real life. It is just a silly techno song remix but I loooove it and listened to it constantly since I found it. Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair is an old Scottish folk song. Many singers have covered it and in this version, Cara Dillon, an Irish folk singer, does the honors. I don’t know if Cara and 2Devine made a deal or if 2Devine just took a copy and remixed it with beats. Either way it is an unlikely combination, folk singing and techno, but somehow it works and is beautiful.

2. Son Lux, Wither

3. Chris Brown, Forever

Again, this might seem like a surprise unless you know me in real life. I just love how innocent, dancy, poppy and romantic it sounds. 

4. Lecrae feat. Sho Baraka, Live Free

5. Blue Foundation, Eyes on Fire

On the Twilight soundtrack. Perfectly melancholy and chilling. (myspace)

Honorable Mention: Oceanlab, On a Good Day, Kanye West, Love Lockdown, and Lecrae, Rebel Intro

If I had unlimited money and time I would have gotten around to listening to/reviewing :

1. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (myspace)

2. Apparat, Walls, (listen for free)

3. Thievery Corporation, Radio Retaliation (myspace)

Sufijan Stevens, Songs for Christmas

I wrote this review last year on Christmas Eve for my now languishing livejournal account. Keep in mind this Sufijan Stevens’ Christmas album came out two years ago. I find however that Christmas albums keep their relevance longer than other albums. Christmas introduces more universal themes that make older music mre palatable than other music of similar age. I plan on excavating my Christmas music collection now that Thanksgiving is over and playing it ad-nauseum until Christmas is a few weeks past (until Epiphany?). I love Christmas music and somehow my standard of quality is adjusted…a few notches lower…not sure why. I decided not to give a point value for quality and clean for this album. I reviewed it last year and also I don’t quite trust my quality radar when it comes to Christmas music.

“I didn’t buy this Christmas album last year when it came out even though its rave review on NPR piqued my interest. Songs for Christmas is a monster box set which includes 5 discs and extensive liner notes. Over the course of five years Sufijan had recorded at home these discs which he then sent out to friends and family as Christmas gifts. He also used them as “Christmas therapy” for himself

“I had never heard of Sufijan until last year and a huge box set seemed like a big commitment. This year however, I craved serious Christmas music to an extent that listening to jingle bells and deck the halls laden secular christmas compilations (which I seem to have collected over the years) didn’t do it for me. Plastic Santas, candy canes, and good ol’ american consumerism made me want to puke. I NEEDED to listen to music about Jesus, why do we celebrate Christmas, whats the point etc… The only music that I could stomach was Rebecca St. James’ CD from 1997 or so. Some would say, even for a Christian artist, her music is too “religious” but it was perfect for me. I discovered the carol, O Come O Come Emmanual, anew this year because of her. The words speak of a dark cloud of sin looming over us that is only dispersed with the news of Jesus’ birth and death on the cross. This was perfect for my candy-induced nausea–yet I wanted something new as well.

“Sufijan Stevens is an indie artist and sounds like an indie artist. To me, he sounds like a solo-artist non-band version of Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree. They all have that scruffy indie-orchestral aesthetic, lushly layered and optimistic but also paying tribute to the overwhelmingly depressing aspects of life. Josh (my husband) hates this type of music, but I can enjoy it when its not bad.

“All five discs together, present a wonderful mix of traditional Christmas hymns, Sufijan’s own Christmas creations and even a couple of just plain hymns (Amazing Grace and O Come Thou Font). Musically and lyrically the box set is varied and diverse. Among the many themes he explores are, the joy of Jesus’ birth, the giddy fun of consumerism, family strife, coming together in spite of family strife and winter cold.  As many instruments as could be found in his house were included. Upbeat, serious, sparse and luscious sounds make the album shine. I am not surprised to find out that Sufijan is a Christian, yet he is not obnoxiously so. It comes out because it is part of who he is, not because he is trying to “send a message.” In fact he wasn’t trying to send a message at all. Possessing an “inherent aversion to the standard Christmas carol” he embarked on the project in the beginning as an exercise to make himself “appreciate” Christmas more. In his liner notes he expresses that the experiment must have worked. This compilation is magnificent and honest.”

links:
review on pitchfork
what his website has to say about it