You can now add Los Campesinos! to the ever growing list of bands who’ve released Christmas music during recent years. Their A Los Campesinos! Christmas EP features three holiday singles the band has released during the past few years along with two new covers and a new Los Campesinos! Christmas original.
Gareth Campesinos! and company have always had a knack for alternating between self-deprecating and cheerful. In other words, melancholy has been their best friend as much as happiness. So, it should come as no surprise that A Los Campesinos! Christmas is not all about the good times. While there’s plenty of joy, there’s also enough despair for those who get depressed around the holidays. And all six tracks are winners, crammed full of holiday symbolism.
Opener “When Christmas Comes” packs a veritable wall of sound with layers and layers of upbeat guitars and jumpy drums in addition to glorious keys and plenty of other stimulating sounds that may or may not go bump in the night. Suffice to say, it sounds as cheerful as “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree” or The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” But if you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll realize that it’s not quite a happy-go-lucky number after all. “Christmas Eve, torrential rain / A single snowflake on this plain / I held you in gloved hands and I’m not letting go,” goes the brutally honest chorus, Gareth Campesinos! sounding larger than life as usual (not a bad thing).
“If you’ll be mine for Christmas / A doe to a deer / I’ll be home for Christmas / And home will be here,” Gareth sings during “A Doe to a Deer,” an original song the band previously released in 2012, although the version here is brighter and more vibrant. To that end, the guitars sparkle and shine while Gareth sings “I’m three sheets to the wind / But the wind is a sleet.” Later, he stumbles home, drunk. It’s interesting how the chorus is a declaration of love and entirely bright, yet the lyrics during the verses more or less point out everything that’s wrong with Christmas. Perhaps he’s asking his would be lover to fall for him in spite of the fact that it’s Christmas? In any case, it’s a fun tune and one that I can see other artists covering during the coming years.
“The Holly & the Ivy,” a classic British carol, is sung by Rob Taylor and sticks out like a sore thumb, being that it’s a stripped-down folk rendition of the song. You really miss the electric guitars that give the rest of the EP such a big sound. It’s not a bad song though. It just doesn’t gel with the others.
“Kindle a Flame in Her Heart” finds Gareth singing “Merry Christmas / I wish you were here,” It’s a sentiment he expresses all over this lovelorn collection, making it the EP a perfect listen for someone who’s hung up on their ex this holiday season. Or for stalkers who wish their love was reciprocated. And, you know, for anyone who’s missing their love, past or present, this Christmas. “Put your arms around me / Like swallowing love” and the other lyrics here are happier than the imagery present on “A doe a deer.”
There’s almost a mellow Nirvana vibe about the down-tempo “The Trains Don’t Run (It’s Christmas Day),” the guitars here sounding more than a little grunge. “Believe me when I say I wouldn’t have it any other way / White snow may turn to grey / The Christmas sky is blue / It blesses me and you,” Gareth sings. Where most of the songs here have upbeat music and downtrodden lyrics, this one has cheerful lyrics and heartbreaking music.
The EP closes with a cover of Mud’s weeping ballad “Lonely This Christmas.” “Try to imagine / A house that’s not a home / Try to imagine / A Christmas all alone,” it begins, Gareth sounding entirely despondent. He continues, “That’s where I’ll be / Since you left me / My tears could melt the snow.” The wonderful thing about this track is that there are no disguises, it’s bummed out lyrically and musically. Which means it might be a bit too downcast for some listeners but for listeners who are feeling alone it’ll provide blankets of comfort.
Christmas can really suck when you’re single, especially if you’re entirely alone, that’s the bottom line. Los Campesinos! spell out all of the reasons why on this gem of an EP. If you’re looking for music to play in the background while you have visitors on Christmas Day then you should probably play something else, but do listen to this one on those days when you’re not quite feeling the holiday spirit.