sun 25/06/2017

CD: Bright Eyes - A Christmas Album | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Bright Eyes - A Christmas Album

CD: Bright Eyes - A Christmas Album

Decade-old Conor Oberst seasonal corker receives belated TAD review

If the Velvet Underground at their most narcotized had recorded a Christmas album in Nashville, it might have sounded like this
A white Christmas round Bright Eyes' way

Nebraskan singer-songwriter Conor Oberst – AKA Bright Eyes - was a famously contrary soul when he first broke through. This greatly benefited his music, if not his commercial potential. Rather than become your typical indie-acoustic whiner, he embraced a multiplicity of styles, an obtuse, upset, punk-electronic filtering of American roots music. I dismissed him initially as yet more NME-endorsed guitar crap but, after seeing him at Glastonbury a few years ago, I realised he was the real deal, an unpredictable, intriguing artist worth watching.

Thus I was pleased to see he had a Christmas album out this year and pilfered the review option for myself. But - Bah humbug! - it isn’t new at all. It dates from 2002 when it was released as a fund-raiser for the Nebraska AIDS Project. Given I oversee theartsdesk’s Disc of the Day section and strictly forbid the reviewing of reissues, this is an unforgivable mistake. I have been thrashing myself with a twined spray of seasonal holly all day by way of penance.

Putting this contemptible (for a music journo) error aside and moving on from my subjective, self-absorbed rambling, the album is a lovely thing. It opens with “Away In A Manger” performed as if by a Deep South revivalist brass band woozy with opium. The tone throughout the whole album is wonderfully melancholy, hazy and smacked out. If the Velvet Underground at their most narcotized had ever recorded a Christmas album in Nashville, it might have sounded a little like this. Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” is rendered bluesy, broken and sweet, a mournful theremin haunts “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Little Drummer Boy” is  a distorted, glitched electronic thing, and “White Christmas, sung by female voice, is gentle, acoustic and ethereal.

In an increasingly crowded marketplace Bright Eyes have produced an outstanding Christmas album, albeit understated, quiet and a wistful - even occasionally heartbroken - in tone. In point of fact, they did so ten years ago.

Overleaf: listen to "Blue Christmas"

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