Album: Thea Gilmore, Strange Communion (Fullfill)
Friday 11 December 2009
Decent Christmas albums don't come along that often – it's ten years since Low's remarkable Christmas, while the last unqualified success, Aimee Mann's One More Drifter in the Snow, arrived in 2006 – so we should celebrate an undertaking as poised and thoughtful as Thea Gilmore's Strange Communion, the best of this year's batch of seasonal offerings.
Following the recent trend towards more non-denominational celebrations, Gilmore opens the album with "Sol Invictus", a pagan hymn to winter solstice, sung a cappella with the Sense of Sound Choir, before offering "Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast" in agnostic manner. "I don't believe in many things, but here's my hymn to you all", she admits, facing the uneasy prospect of the new year with hope but no illusions. T S Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi" provides the opening image to "Cold Coming", Gilmore's folk-rock rallying-cry celebrating Jesus as outlaw revolutionary, "the old reunion of the rebel with the fight", and finding an even colder coming in "the ringing of the till"; while later, Louis MacNeice's "Autumn Journal" furnishes the litany of unflinching images narrated over guitar, piano and evocative vinyl crackle in "Book of Christmas".
Lest her Christmas slip too far towards the cautionary and sober-sided, Gilmore offers her own unabashed attempt at a Christmas single with "That'll be Christmas" – and makes a better fist of it than most, mingling sharp coinages like "faith, hope and gluttony" with unusually fresh, evocative images over a rolling pop groove streaked with slide guitar. This album's "Fairytale of New York", meanwhile, is not so much her melancholy separation song "December in New York", as the celtic-flavoured duet "St. Stephen's Day Murders", an obscure Elvis Costello oddity on which DJ Mark Radcliffe plays the Shane MacGowan part, brusquely sharing anticipation of "laughter and tears over Tia Marias". But it's another obscure cover, of Yoko Ono's "Listen, the Snow is Falling", which provides the album's most magical moment, Gilmore's delivery a hushed murmur over a shimmering synth-pad sparsely illuminated by the occasional chime.
Elsewhere, "Old December" is another non-denominational celebration of the season – "whoever you praise, raise a glass to these days" – while acoustic guitar and an intimate shiver of strings lends an Astral Weeks ambience to the lovely "Drunken Angel", which carries much the same message in more evocative language, promising that "Winter tells its truth to anyone who'll listen/It will whisper to you slowly when the light is low". Christmas: it's not just for Christians, thank god.
Download this Listen, the Snow is Falling; That'll Be Christmas; Sol Invictus; Drunken Angel
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Canadian woman suing police who locked her in van with sex offender who then raped her
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures