Various Artists

Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Released in a variety of formats (and with differing track listings) over several years, in its presumably final CD form on LTM Records the Crepescule label's Ghosts of Christmas Past compilation acts as one of the most distinct holiday albums in an overcrowded field, eschewing the overtly traditional for the wry and the off-kilter, while at the same time still being a Christmas collection straight-up. With its original track listing augmented by various cuts from later editions and related singles, the 2007 edition kicks off with a sprightly instrumental medley of standards from the earliest incarnation of Aztec Camera -- entitled "Hot Club of Christ," should there be questions about the exact reverence at play through much of the disc -- and from there covers everything from the joyful to the melancholic, a good portrait of the time. As a simultaneous label showcase and holiday-themed effort, the contrasts can often be amusing in context -- the Names' glowering "Tokyo Twilight," for instance -- while the Durutti Column's "One Christmas for Your Thoughts" and the Pale Fountains' "Benoit's Christmas" (the latter referring to the Crepescule label owner) take a gentler ride. Tuxedomoon's own pulverization of standards with "Weinachtrap" rivals Aztec Camera's for playful inventiveness -- flat horn parts play "Jingle Bells" while falsetto backing vocals sing "O Tannenbaum," among other things -- while Michael Nyman's wonderfully strange keyboard fanfare "Cream or Christians" is the antithesis of, say, Mannheim Steamroller. Best song title (if one of the flat-out murkiest and most classically post-punk-as-such sounding numbers): "Praying for a Cheaper Christmas" by the Swinging Buildings. And who could disagree with the sentiment?

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