Holiday albums are often a mixed bag (er, stocking?), either working as a sure-fire sales gimmick, or saddling artists with well-worn songs rife with saccharine sentimentality. With their first holiday-themed album, Christmas Songs, Vol. 1, Georgia's Manchester Orchestra defy the latter pitfall, delivering a hushed and dusky EP of yuletide standards that retain all of the epic emotionality of their original work. Initially released online in 2020 (with proceeds going to help the Georgia-based homeless shelter Atlanta Mission) and re-released the following year as a physical LP, Christmas Songs, Vol. 1 features a mix of classic holiday favorites and traditional songs including "Silent Night," White Christmas," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." If there's any hook or gimmick here, it's Manchester Orchestra's ability to make even the most light-hearted and merry song sound sad. Rather than a brisk sleigh-ride, these are slow-burn performances, pitched at the speed of trudging through deep snow on a moonlit evening. The album has the feel of a bundled-up Christmas Eve performance at a candle-lit church service as singer Andy Hull commands your attention with his yearning tenor croon. Smartly, the group also strip their sound to its bare, chamber-group essence, framing Hull in woody basslines, brassy percussion, and echoey, tube-amp guitar lines. If you've always thought there was something melancholy and ruminative about the holiday season, Manchester Orchestra's Christmas Songs, Vol. 1 might be the album to match your mood.
Christmas Songs, Vol. 1 Review
by Matt Collar