Various Artists – XO For The Holidays Vol. VIII

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Various Artists – XO For The Holidays Vol. VIII

As I was listening to the songs on this compilation of bands connected to Portland-based XO Publicity, I had a thought, or rather a question, and it is this: “exactly what makes a Christmas song/track/single different from any other kind of song?”. It might seem obvious, but listening to the tracks on the XO compilation – all of which are quite excellent, it’s undeniable that some of them appear to sound more actually festive than others, and what, I found myself asking, is the difference?

Take Alejandra O’Leary’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, a blues rock number with some very tight guitar playing and Alejandra’s sweetly soulful voice. A definitely seasonal lyric, some intricate guitar licks, but it isn’t quite the ‘Christmas Song’ of the type that I decided I would attempt to define, although it is far nearer to the festive spirit than Calisse’s “Not A Holiday” and its memorable intro – “I don’t want to write a holiday song / I’d rather sit at home crying alone,” sings vocalist James Collette over a piano while the rest of the band commiserate in the background. It is true that not everyone likes Christmas very much, and perhaps we can add Magnuson to that grouping, as their glam metal take on the Bangle’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” defiantly knocks the snow from their rooftop, and then Joseph Demaree, whose hypnotronic “Celebrating Every Day” is a definite highlight of the album in its swirling, echoing ambience.

Great music so far, but is it really very Christmassy? Well, ArtPeace bring their authentic sleighbells and a lyric that mentions mistletoe, Jack Frost and Tinseltown in their “Winter Wanderland”, and the sleighbells are also brought into play with Stubborn Son’s grimy garage-punk influenced tale of weather problems “Snowed In”, while Revolt Revolt’s version of “White Christmas” owes more to Ennio Morriconne than to Bing Crosby (or to anyone else that has ever recorded the song). Of all the bands featured on the XO compilation it is somehow appropriately The Winter Sounds that bring the most recognisably ‘Christmassy’ track although exactly how they do this could take some explaining, so I’ll just say that their frenetic synth-pop has just the right amount of reverb and that “Mas X” conveys exactly the mood of a busy day in December. And lastly, on the top of the XO tree we find the very lovely Piney Gir, whom I am pleased to hear from this year, and her “Rootin’ Tootin’ Santa Claus” is definitely the most properly ‘Christmassy’ song on the compilation, and it’s on that cheery note that the XO compilation ends.

Whether Christmas is a important part of your year, or you can’t wait for January to begin properly, there’s something on XO’s compilation that will suit your mood and, as an added bonus, the album is available as a free download, so whatever your holiday plans this year, you can soundtrack your Christmas party without any added costs, something which XO are to be thanked for. Happy listening!

XO Publicity