By Kyle Harcott
Sentimental fool that I am, I go through it every year: another round of trying to find the best possible Christmas music for a personal mixtape, as to avoid being subjected to the horrid, standard-fare Xmas schmaltz at every possible turn (yeah, I really need to hear Bryan Adams’ insipid cover of “Run Run Rudolph” again when I go for my morning coffee – bah humbug). Sonic chestnuts of Antivenin Christmases Past have included the New Bomb Turks’ overdriven, garage-punk rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, Engine Kid’s feral, droning “Little Drummer Boy”, or the entire A John Waters Christmas album. This year my search began late, in the second week of December – but I lucked out when I found this year’s shoe-in for Xmas Song of the Year in the glorious new (digital-only at this point) Jesu single, Christmas.
Recorded and mixed over Nov-Dec 2010 during sessions for the forthcoming Jesu LP, Christmas was “inspired by the onset of the Christmas period and emotions and feelings of nostalgia, joy, and sadness that the period often evokes.” There are three tracks total: the original Jesu mix and two remixes, one each by Justin Broadrick’s alter egos Pale Sketcher and FINAL.
The first track, the original Jesu mix, is classic. Expectedly throbbing, droning, and rich with those enveloping swaths of guitar we’ve all loved since first hearing hints of them on Selfless, the Jesu mix of “Christmas” is as overt as Broadrick gets with this project: Pig-thick sheet-metal guitar that rolls through the headphones like early-winter thunder, and toward the end a brief plaintive acoustic break accompanied by ominous tubular bells, only to be jettisoned in favor of a return to those roaring slabs of guitar in the coda. All accompanied by a pleading, half-a-step-from-monotone vocal from Broadrick. As filled with hope as it is grief, the song is classic, perfect Jesu.
The Pale Sketcher remix is, unsurprisingly, about as polar-opposite of Jesu as could be imagined. The main riff here has been replaced with a mourning acoustic passage accented by heavy synth leans and ethereal, reverberant (if undermixed) vocals entirely unrecognizable as Broadrick’s (if indeed they are his). The track works as a fantastic companion piece because it is so far removed from the anchor-weight of the original mix. At 5:33, Pale Sketcher’s is also the shortest mix of the three.
The fourteen-minute FINAL remix is the longest of the three, and most unrecognizable when compared against the other two mixes. FINAL’s stock-in-trade is minimalist ambient drone, though this track centers around a glassy, stripped-down acoustic guitar line (vague shades of Goblin and/or Godspeed, mood-wise), but then devolves back into more sustained, wavering, one-note synth passages. While I could appreciate it as a stand-alone track, the FINAL mix did not evoke the same mood in me as the previous two.
Ever the innovator, Justin Broadrick can now add ‘Christmas album’ to his respectable canon, as he leaves us slavering for the next Jesu full-length. I’d say it’s a safe bet you won’t stumble across another Christmas-themed album as original or inspiring this year – and not one god-damned sleigh bell to be heard!