If you’d asked me, when The Reprobate launched, how many Christmas albums we’d be reviewing, I would’ve confidently predicted none. Yet here we are covering our fourth festive LP. How unexpected.
Yet how great, too. As someone with a curious affection for genuinely great Christmas records (and yes, they do exist) and a twisted fascination for the truly awful ones, I’m always up for putting aside my myriad problems with the season of goodwill, stress and huge expense to enjoy interesting new additions to the genre. And the latest album by Smoke Fairies is just that.
Exclusively available from Rough Trade, this is that delicious, nebulous genre known as ‘dream pop’ – a term that encompasses everything from shoegazing introspection to twee noodling. Smoke Fairies are closer to the former than the latter, thankfully, though their combination of the ethereal and the fuzz drenched. Most significantly, it’s a seasonable album that stands to be played outside Christmas. The album title is apt – it’s more a winter themed recording than specifically festive. And it perfectly captures that sense of intimacy that winter somehow brings, the feeling of snow falling and the night starting at 4pm that gives the season that odd mix of light and dark, and the inevitable mixed emotions that occur as we look back over the preceding year.
This is certainly more suited for those nights of being huddled next to the fire, drinking mulled wine and feeling introspective than it is office parties and enforced jollity. So openers Christmas Without a Kiss and Steal Softly Thru Snow offer a sense of contemplation and melancholy, livened with grinding guitar fuzzery and gorgeous harmonised vocals that give the music a folk-tinged edge.
Similarly, Give and Receive has a haunting beauty to it that makes it an eerily affecting song that hints at Christmas without really hammering the point home. Circles in the Snow is a nostalgia-tinged memory of Christmas past, upbeat yet wistful. The wordless Snowglobe Blizzard is delicately and spookily gorgeous enough to bring back the ghosts of Christmas past, while So Much Wine, a tale of drinking to forget, is the most openly folky number here, and also perhaps the darkest in tone.
Other tracks like Three Kings and Bad Good have a more thrusting rock feel, giving the album a necessary touch of aggression and allowing the music to twist and turn in moments of psychedelic glory. But it’s on moody, slightly unsettling and darkly wintery numbers like the title track that the album is most impressive. This song seems to somehow capture the mixed emotions of the season perfectly, the feelings of togetherness and isolation, the nostalgia and the regret that marks the season nicely evoked. Album closer All Up in the Air also feels like a perfect representation of the season, almost demanding to be listened to as you watch the snow fall and remember things won and lost during the year.
At times, Wild Winter feels like the snow-inspired album that Kate Bush should have recorded. It manages to be uplifting and downbeat, often at the same time, and is never less than lovely. This is what Christmas music ought to be like.