With the holidays in a full swing, and having just seen world music and World of Warcraft artist David Arkenstone perform this past weekend (more on that later this week), it seems as good a time as any to dig into some of his Christmas offerings. While Visions of Christmas is his latest holiday album, I did want to revisit his 2009 release, Christmas Lounge.
Just as the album title and this post title would suggest, this isn’t your typical David Arkenstone. Gone are the Celtic influences, small ensemble instrumentation, and even the unique aural storytelling that Arkenstone is known for. Instead, this is a serious electronic chillout album featuring David Arkenstone and arranger Seth Osburn.
Does the album fall flat, or does Arkenstone have a Christmas hit on his hands? Find out in our review after the jump!
First off, why has David Arkenstone branched out into a genre that seems to go in a completely different direction from his main body of work? As it turns out, he was commissioned to work on this album, just as he was with the World of Warcraft franchise. As mentioned, he’s teamed up with arranger and keyboardist Seth Osburn to lay down some chilly yet smooth soundscapes to accompany you during the holidays.
Let’s get a track list out there so you know what you’re in for:
1. Sleigh Ride
2. Deck The Halls
3. Angels We Have Heard On High
4. O Come All Ye Faithful
5. Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy
6. We Three Kings
7. Carol Of The Bells
8. Do You Hear What I Hear?
9. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
10. Jingle Bells
11. The First Noel
12. Silent Night
From the opening jingle bells of “Sleigh Ride,” you know Christmas is in the air. The track features pitch-bending synth lines, icy pads, and a touch of warmth with rich piano chords. The subdued percussion and bass are carried through the entire album, lending a sense of continuity across the arrangements, and making for a cohesive hour-long listening experience from start to finish.
You’ll also notice that Arkenstone and Osburn take some artistic liberties with the rhythm of each piece, changing things up a bit to slow down the pieces and keep the interesting. You may be humming along to a familiar melody in your head, for example, only to have the melody pause, and resume moments later. As some of these holiday songs can be pretty uppity at times, this was an interesting way to stretch things out and let the melodies simmer a little longer in your ears.
My favorites of the bunch? I love the smooth take on “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which reminds me of Joshua Morse’s arrangement of “Black Omen” from CHRONOTORIOUS with its decisive electric piano chords and slow buildup. “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is also quite amazing, taking on a sort of James Bond persona with a funky bass line and all sorts of embellishments between the familiar pizzicato string melody. Also, who the heck arranges “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy?” Major points for that one. Finally, “Carol of the Bells,” which is probably my favorite Christmas carol of all, is one that I don’t hear it that often, as it is somewhat dark for a holiday tune. I love Arkenstone’s contemplative take on the piece, sounding like something out of a Castlevania game towards the end.
When you think of “lounge” music, I’m sure jazz comes to mind. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” are both what I’d classify as smooth jazz themes, with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” being particularly smooth with some excellent electric guitar work and some of the best arrangement on the entire album, taking what is often a somewhat silly sounding song and turning into something legitimately cool.
While this album was released in 2009, it’s still widely available in physical and digital formats. I know I’ve been getting bored with some of the traditional versions of the many Christmas carols on the radio and on my iPod over the past month, so it’s nice to hear something fresh like Christmas Lounge which comes as a huge surprise from David Arkenstone. I recommend checking it out, and watch for our review of Arkenstone’s Winter Solstice concert and Visions of Christmas in the coming days.
Are you a fan of Christmas carols? Is there a particular album that does something unique with the classics that you want to share?Tags: Arrangements, Chillout, Christmas, David Arkenstone, Electronic, Jazz, Remixes, Reviews