Bright Eyes: A Christmas Album
Bright Eyes A Christmas album was originally released as a download only charity album in 2002. It’s been repackaged this year as a full release. John Leonard Lucas reviews for Louder Than War.
For some people Christmas just can’t come fast enough. We all have that acquaintance who brags about buying their presents in the January sales, the one with decorations up all year round, or the friend who posts on Facebook in mid October: “Yay, just bought myself an Xmas jumper lolz!” Then there’s that guy who likes to rock out the festive tunes as early as they can, despite the fact that most normal people frankly can’t stand them. Conor Oberst, who for all intents and purposes is indie/country/emo rock band Bright Eyes, seems to be that guy. For not only has he released an album of classic Christmas covers almost two months before Jesus’ birthday, he’s done it for the second time around.
Originally released online in 2002 via his Saddle Creek record company, the proceeds from A Christmas Album went to the Nebraska Aids Project. Now, covering most of the big Crimbo standards from Away In A Manger to Silent Night, it’s getting a wider release on CD, vinyl and on iTunes.
Recorded between 2002’s self-consciously lo-fi Lifted… and 2004’s double release of folky/electro-pop LPs I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn the Christmas album is enthused with all the flavours you would expect from the Bright Eyes of this period, performed by a plethora of guest musicians and vocalists from Tilly And The Wall, Mystic Valley Band, Rilo Kiley and others. So there’s nothing particularly merry about Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, although like Away in a Manger it’s delicate and dreamlike. Less relaxing is Little Drummer Boy which pa-rum-pum-pum-pums its way through a wall of fuzz. White Christmas is a lovely stripped back acoustic number with Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor on vocal duties while God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen provides a rare injection of pace as it romps home at just under two minutes. But Oberst’s version of Blue Christmas, one of the finest seasonal songs around, turns out unsurprisingly to be the best thing on the album.
Back in 2009 Oberst said he was considering dropping the Bright Eyes moniker after one final album, which might have been 2011’s The People’s Key. It’s not as if he doesn’t have anything else to keep him busy. Alternatively recording or touring with the Mystic Valley Band, Monsters of Folk, as a solo act, or with the heavy rocking Desaperecidos, the former child prodigy has established a back catalogue full of intense, emotional and lyrically accomplished recordings way beyond the capabilities of your average indie scenester.
With this wider release he can finally join the elite club of artists who have a good Christmas album under their belt too. That is, an album that’s prepared to play around with traditional expectations of how the most traditional seasonal songs are supposed to sound. Whether you’ll want to have it on when Nan comes round is a different matter.