Album Review: “A Los Campesinos! Christmas” by Los Campesinos!

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By Matt Benson

Artists that feed our mass culture’s yearly hunger for new holiday music play a dangerous game with their creative credibility. Many musicians release Christmas albums in the hope that this incessant need will translate into a bump in radio airtime after the holidays’ end. Any artist recording a Christmas album is then gambling heavily that he or she can contribute something compelling, novel, or meaningful enough to not be redundant, while also not appearing entirely dead-eyed and hollow. As a thoughtful little release, A Los Campesinos! Christmas shows that holiday music can be more than just saccharine rehash. Though the EP peters out by the end, a solid first two-thirds explores new Christmas ground and promises more interesting things to come in Los Campesinos!’s future.

Though the cynical, romantic indie-rockers seem unlikely creators of such a festive offering, Los Campesinos! have a fondness for kitsch that finds plenty of snark in the massive cultural edifice comprising Christmas. All of the tracks are original, and when they succeed, it’s entirely due to the honesty they offer that other Christmas music lacks—namely, that the holidays can kind of suck. The EP works as holiday music because it acknowledges the mediocre reality behind the shared façade constructed by our culture. For every Hallmark family moment is the Christmas night alone at work—for every perfect snowy eve, a rainy Christmas morning.

That’s not to say the album is all gloom and snark, though; Los Campesinos! Christmas does demonstrate a clear fondness for the holiday, just not in the traditional religious or mass cultural contexts. “The Holly & The Ivy” is even a genuine Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph Christmas song, but ultimately, it conveys a greater loyalty to the timeless traditional elements of the holiday than to the actual religious subtext. Instrumentally, the song deviates from Los Campesinos!’s more produced, poppy style—a vaguely haunting folk carol that bodes interesting things for any future LP releases if it hints at a future shift in musical direction.

Other notable tracks include “When Christmas Comes” and “A Doe to a Deer,” which frowns on the modern Christmas landscape—“LED avenues… Where they pluck all the stars from out the sky/ And they hang them from rafters up on high”—while ultimately urging to find someone who can make all of it mean anything. “Kindle a Flame in Her Heart” is fun and catchy in a familiar style, but the album’s tone lurches to a more somber tone in “The Trains Don’t Run” or “Lonely This Christmas,” which is where the EP starts to stumble. The latter is particularly challenging—croony and heartbroken in that painful way only breakup songs can be; still, maybe that’s the exact song that’s called for when you’re feeling lonely this Christmas.

Even if it only mostly works, A Los Campesinos! Christmas is a bold experiment that yields interesting results, and the band deserves credit, if for nothing else than going out on that limb. The EP rings with the consideration put into it, and Los Campesinos! exhibit their trademark capacity to humanize their music through their intense lyrical honesty. If the old holiday standbys are getting nauseating, A Los Campesinos! Christmas is a refreshing alternative.

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