The lighting rig that hung over the members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Smoothie King Center Wednesday night could serve as the New World Order Olympic rings—seven, not five, close together but not interlocking, each with an LED square inside. Three songs into the set, the rings surprised the crowd when the LED squares inside the front three lowered to bring band members including violin player Asha Mevlana to the stage.
Christmas music often comes with a strong undercurrent of nostalgia as the songs evoke times that seem simpler in retrospect. That isn’t an issue for Mars Williams’ Ayler Xmas project, which steers into the heart of the tensions and uncertainties of improvised music based on pieces of adventurous Black art from the early 1960s.
Earlier this month, My Spilt Milk launched a new podcast, “The 12 Songs of Christmas.” My Spilt Milk founder Alex Rawls has been writing about Christmas since 2004, when he wrote a cover story on it for Gambit with interviews with people as different as American Idol contestants, Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill, filmmaker/artist John Waters, and sing
Three days before Christmas 2016, Jeremih and Chance the Rapper dropped Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama—a mixtape that had all the hallmarks of Chance’s work the rest of the year. It had a spiritual, moral and socially active backbone as well as a clear sense of place. It was unquestionably an urban album, and “I’m Your Santa” moves to Chicago stepping’s trademark groove.
“Love’s Not Just for Christmas” isn’t only a good song. It opens doors to a host of good questions from the first upward sweep of strings. Just before they reach a crescendo, a buoyant piano pumps out chords over which a female R&B singer describes a domestic vignette from the holiday season. “The whole world smiles as there’s only love in the air,” she sings before the female vocal ensemble that back her step warmly into the bouncy chorus that concludes with the title sentiment.
The number of suicides don’t go up during the Christmas season. A CDC study shows that suicide attempts are actually at a yearly low in December, but the urban legend makes sense. Shorter, darker days added to Christmas’ ability to push people’s buttons can weigh heavily, particularly when balanced by gaiety of Christmas trappings.
[Updated] According to singer Judith Owen, Christmas has two sides—“Bloody awful and wonderful,” and both are represented in Christmas songs. When sung together, they’re shared expressions of community, but “they're all about yearning,” she said in 2012. “They're about missing home. They're about missing people. Songs like 'White Christmas' and 'The Christmas Song' are about yearning. 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' is one of the saddest songs I've heard in my entire life."
Don't sleep on Spotify's Holiday Singles, Black Santa's Mixtape, Kaskade's late night Christmas, Bloodshot's irreverent holiday favorites-to-be, and new Christmas releases from Lindsey Stirling, Tav Falco and Sultans of String.