The advent of the internet has paved the way to uncertain times for recording artists but, amidst the bad news and knee-jerk headlines, many musicians are taking advantage of the relative ease of access to listeners’ ears. Combine that with the perceived spirit of unselfish giving associated with this time of the year and you find yourself with an abundance of festive freebies. ‘Tis the season to give away free music, be it compilation albums or individual tracks; cover versions or selected album tracks.
But with so many floating freely across the ethereal www – and with a limited space on your hard-drive – how are you to know which samplers to stream or sample? Fortunately, our round-up is here to help you filter through the downloads of Manchester’s 2011 Yuletide.
We’ll start with a regular in the compilation game, Red Deer Club Recordings. Their fourth selection predictably comprises ditties from the folk pigeonhole in which they’ve built a strong reputation for picking winners (Stealing Sheep, Awesome Wells, Sophies Pigeons), but less predictably also includes many a nod to the post-Animal Collective ‘chillwave’ genre so prevalent on the palate of 2011’s tastemakers (Jewellers, O>L>A, Sun Drums). The seaside field recording seeing in the first 90 seconds of Chewy Benson’s opener ‘To Fallow, To Fall’ isn’t in the traditionalist’s model of folk music either, particularly when it kicks into sample-heavy electronic glitches. Elsewhere, Jonnie Common weighs in with a reworking of his own ‘Summer Is For Going Places’ and one of the standouts is Jess Bryant’s version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Games’; an indicator of the reason why RDC has signed her to the label for 2012.
Also on the compilation theme, Little Red Rabbit have a varied record available on their website, lumping together album tracks, B-sides, exclusives and covers. Some are noticeably festive; Crazy Man Michael’s sombre but catchy copy of Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ obviously so, Last Harbour’s ‘Alone For The Winter’ more tenuously. As a collection, it’s an eerie, acid folk haunt through wintry isolation that sometimes steps inside to the warmth of a crackling open fire and knitted jumpers. The odd one out is Kalbakken’s ‘Ulversdale’ with its spiky, icily disjointed strings and avant-garde rhythms. Support act at the first Now Then Manchester gig of 2012 Samson & Delilah feature with a rejigged ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, while the headliners for that show, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, have also recorded a separate Christmas special, ‘My Heart Was Set On Christmas Eve’.
Debt Records provide the most appropriate set for the season; their amply talented roster chipping into an album concentrating solely on covers. Certainly there are improvements on originals – Rioghnach Connolly’s voice on Honeyfeet’s ‘The Wexford Carol’ is a delight, Louis Barabbas is his usual exuberant self with The Bedlam Six on ‘Do-Wap In A Manger’ and Alabaster DePlume’s eclectic a capella riffs around ‘Away In A Manger’. The worry with an album of Xmas covers is that tedium might set in, but with such an array of characters and styles within the label, tedium is never really an issue; Biff Roxby’s curtain closing Wonky Disco mash-up ‘All I Want For Xmas Is Spoo’ means you wouldn’t have chance to nod off with your belly full of turkey. The compilation’s title is a cracker: Debt It Snow! Debt It Snow! Debt It Snow!
Shifting genres, From The Kites Of San Quentin have grouped together their 2011 remixes under one bandcamp page; as ever with these aural inventors, there’s a fair range between the four, from the dubby, atmospheric Badly Drawn Boy number to a remix of 808 State’s ‘In Yer Face’ for BBC Radio Manchester, neatly supplanting its Haç pulse races with Alison Carney's calming vocal pining, via a more deadpan, mellow Dresden mix.
Vocal sculptor, beatboxer and electronic music whizz Jason Singh has produced an ambient plateau 'Christmas Thanks' worthy of a listen on soundcloud. Finally, take the time to add Air Cav’s cover of Kraftwerk’s krautrock classic ‘The Model’ to your download queue; adding Sophie Parkes’ violin to the mix in place of the high pitched synths makes it an inspired choice for the band.
Words: Ian Pennington
Dan Haywood's New Hawks gig poster art: Craig Brown (Beards Club Illustration)
Rioghnach Connolly Photo: Ged Camera
Jason Singh Photo: Courtesy of Jason Singh