Album Reviews

Scala & Kolacny Brothers – December

(PIAS) UK release date: 12 November 2012

‘Tis the season for a slew of Christmas albums to hit the shelves. Rather than wait until December to release December, Scala And Kolacny Brothers have opted to beat the Christmas rush and put their latest album out in November, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Ordinarily, festive albums are a compilation of all the usual suspects crammed in to make sure that all the old favourites are heard ad infinitum in every house and every shop in the land. It’s amazing that the music listening world hasn’t heard enough of the seasonal offerings from Slade, Shakin’ Stevens, and er, Cliff Richard already, but every year they seemingly get repackaged and snapped up like hot mince pies.

It would appear that the brothers Kolacny feel the same, and although a sizeable chunk of their output over the years has been cover versions (and in particular covers of alternative artists, with Nirvana and Depeche Mode amongst them) they have been reluctant to dabble with any festive tunes. That is, until they were asked to record one for a German radio station. Unsure of what to do, they asked their Facebook friends for suggestions and the response led to the recording of December. That they turned to Facebook for advice is fitting, as it was their version of Creep appearing in the film The Social Network that drove them into limelight.

Of course, this is not just a project involving two brothers, but an entire women’s choir. As such the songs that are covered here are, for the most part, arranged and executed in a manner far removed from their original form. As might be expected, the tone throughout is almost entirely hymnal. At their best it also sounds wonderfully ethereal and evocative, such as on their version of Sarah Mclachlan’s Wintersong or Damien Rice’s Eskimo. Their treatment of Joni Mitchell’s River is similarly impressive, with nothing but a piano and their soaring voices they create something quite spine tingling. The opening song, a cover of Linkin Park’s My December, becomes haunting and delicate in the choir’s hands, but the addition of electronic drums at the midpoint give it a cheap feel and are entirely unnecessary; the choir is all that’s really needed.

There are occasions where it doesn’t quite work. The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles is a catchy number, and perhaps a little too familiar to work on an album that seeks to highlight forgotten seasonal songs. Coldplay’s Christmas Lights sounds a little too close to a school production to be truly effective, whilst the dour stab at Prince’s When Doves Cry would have been better left to one side. Some things are too perfect to be re-imagined. The choir take a back seat on the version of Sufjan Stevens’ It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad, with a band and the brothers taking the lead. It’s the most straightforward and fun song on the album by a long way and a much needed break from the very earnest work that populates the rest of December.

A good effort then, and an idea that at least attempts to try and make an interesting Christmas album – and, for the most part, succeeds. It is certainly nowhere near the Phil Spector Christmas Album in terms of quality. But then what is?

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