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Christmas Song nr. 23: Christmas at the Airport by Nick Lowe

One of the worst things, probably worse than being alone at Christmas, is when the holidays just don’t turn out the way we though they would. That building anticipation that ones goes through for weeks, just to be let down when it finally arrives. The turkey is dry, the family gets too drunk, you just didn’t get that present you were hoping for or you don’t arrive at your destination. That is what Nick Lowe contemplates in his tune Christmas at the airport.

When Nick Lowe, born in 1949 in England, wasn’t thrilled when his record company approached him to release a Christmas album, but according to himself he didn’t have to consider it for long and gave in to ‘tawdry and vulgar commercialism’. The result was Quality Street – A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, complete with covers of various seasonal tunes, but also two new songs, all done with Lowe’s special brand of irony and humor.

Christmas at the Airport is one of those new songs, relating how Lowe is stuck during Christmas Day and how he decides to spend his time, all alone.  It is a interesting ditty, maybe not an instant Christmas classic, but it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in The Terminal and it tells us to make the best out of every situation, no matter how bleak.

For its message of hope Christmas at the Airport by Nick Lowe is song number 23 on The Christmas List of Songs.

 

Christmas Song nr. 25: Fairytale of New York by The Pogues & Kristi McColl

It’s probably not odd that one of the most famous Christmas songs land here on the list and again not so surprising that it ends up on the day itself. To many around the world Sean MacGowan’s anthem is the very best holiday tune, although fairly unknown in the states it is iconic in Europe.

Fairytale of New York  was released in 1987 by The Pogues, written by Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, though it had been in the works since 1985. It basically is the amalgamation of all the songs on this list. In it you will find the spirit of the season, the loneliness some can feel and the longing or desire that comes with the holidays. About a man in a New York City drunk tank he hears the man in the next cell sing an old tune and then dreams about the female character in that very song. It ends up becoming an imagined conversation between the two about youthful hopes and a life lost to drug and alcoholism. At its core it is a very sad song, but still one that incorporates the season. Its folk music style gives it that old seasonal feel as well.

Because of this somberness and that it in the end just represents all the Christmas tunes on this list; Fairytale of New York is the final and 25th pick on The Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Christmas Song nr. 22: We Won’t Remember Christmas by The Midnight Beast

Many of the songs on this list are about the majesty of Christmas, the need to be with family for the holidays and the love we share when with those who are most important to us. We Won’t Remember Christmas might just be one of the few songs that show the reality of the season, in a humorous way.

Released in 2014 by the YouTube sensation The Midnight Beast the tune relates the events of, for some, an all too familiar Christmas celebration with the family.  I´t may appear that the events that The Best sing about would be construed as quite a terrible holiday celebration, but the perform it, as they always do, with a wink and a nod. It is all there; embarrassing relatives, too much holiday cheer and plans that fall through. All set to a festive and somewhat reflective melody.

Midnight Beast rose to prominence in 2009 when they produced a cover of Tik Tok by artist Ke$ha and have since put out material consistently with two albums, a book and a television show in the bag. The trio, consisting of Stef Abingdon, Dru Wakely and Ash Horne, have mastered the art of YouTube fame by being musically gifted and having previous experiences in songwriting and performing. Their brand of music is a blend of styles like pop, rock and dance, all with witty and sarcastic lyrics.

The fact that one might actually be able to relate to the morning after Christmas is the reason why We Won’t Remember Christmas is our 22nd choice on The Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Christmas Song nr. 21: Standing by the Christmas Tree by Cara Dillon

As this list starts to wind down one might reflect on the content of it. Some may say that it ways heavily on more contemporary songs or modern versions of older classics and that may very well be true. This list is just as much a collection of personal favorites, but also a wish to enlighten people about what is out there. In that vein the 21st song is the most recent song to be released.

The Christmas album Upon a Winter’s Night was released this year by folk musician Cara Dillon. Dillon, born in Ireland in 1975, has been a fixture on the folk scene since she joined the folk music brat pack Equinox in 1995, but had then already performed since the age if fourteen. Marrying into the Lakeman family, also a folk institution, her angelic voice has been a constant in traditional music and one would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful rendition of The Parting Glass than hers.

Standing By My Christmas Tree is an original Christmas song from her new album, written by Dillon and husband Sam Lakeman. Like Jim Croce’s Christmas tune it’s about loneliness during the holidays. In contrast to Croce’s desire for a lost relationship Dillon’s song is less obvious about the back story. Is it a lost love, is someone coming, has someone passed or is it about the lord himself as the line ‘You’ve been there from the very start’. The use of Silent Night in the melody could hint at that very thing. Whatever the truth is here and whatever the deeper meaning might be Dillon’s voice, filled with longing and emptiness pierces the heart and makes the listener feel it as well. In the end the best songs are those we may interpret any way we would like.

Because some songs have the ability to become instant classics, and I personally see a cover done by an American country artist very soon, Standing By the Christmas Tree is the 21st choice on The Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Review: Generation Zero from Valiant Entertainment

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Writer: Fred van Lente

Artist: Francis Portela

Publisher: Valiant Comics

 

In her hour of need Keisha Sherman decides to contact the group Generation Zero, her boyfriend has recently died in a car accident, but she believes there to be some very odd circumstances surrounding this death and she needs answers. Keisha lives in a town called Rook a place sentenced to die due to unemployment until a savior comes and revitalizes it. After her boyfriend’s death there indeed seems to be something sinister going on and it becomes clear that drunk driving wasn’t the cause. Generation Zero, a team of young psiots who have broken free from an evil corporation and help people, arrive in the city, infiltrate the high school and begin their investigation.

As soon as the investigation interesting and strange things are uncovered and the group, with Keisha are in immediate danger.

Generation Zero is yet another title that contains all those things we have come to expect from Valiant’s titles. Great storytelling combined with great art. It reflects a city in decline because of a failing economy and those that might pray on such places. It’s about fitting in, about tropes we recognize from TV shows like Stranger Things; the fantastical mixed with the mundane. There are enough conspiracy angles, pop culture references and mutant like powers to satisfy all various fandoms.

Once again Valiant drags us into its intriguing universe by blending nostalgia, social criticism, intrigue, compelling plots and wonderful art. Generation Zero makes one want to come back for more.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Song nr. 20: Rebel Jesus by The Albion Christmas Band

Sometimes the Christmas songs, like number choice 19, can be a social comment. It can make us think about our lost in life, compared to others. Still some might discuss the supposed reason for the season; Jesus Christ. This post is not a discussion regarding the sacredness of the holidays in any way, but merely a comment on the choice of number 20 on our list; Rebel Jesus.

Written by Jackson Browne for The Chieftains Christmas album The Bells of Dublin it is a starch observation from an outside perspective how we have perverted message of Jesus’ birth. All those things Jesus represented, quite a rebellious act at the time, we now have discarded to come full circle. Browne’s lyrics attack how we can celebrate the birth of a man who spoke out against the greed, caring for each other and the commercialization of all things holy, while acting against that message.

In the original release Browne supplies the vocals to The Chieftains very distinct Irish traditional music and I find that the interpretation provided by The Albion Christmas Band relates the lyrics much better. Where The Chieftains tend to lose themselves in their need to cram as much folk music into each tune Albion Christmas Band’s version is a no nonsense version, where the lyrics take center stage.

Originally formed as The Albion Band in 1971 it turned into a seasonal Christmas band in the late eighties. When the original group became defunct the founder, Simon Care, came with the suggestion to some of the other members that they form a permanent seasonal band. While there has been many iterations of The Albion Band the Christmas version is the longest running one. Now a permanent fixture on the Christmas folk scene the band mixes storytelling with traditional yuletide tunes and modern classics.

For the new perspective on Christmas and the reinvention of Browne’s lyrics Rebel Jesus is number 20 on the Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Christmas Song nr. 19: It Feels Like Christmas by The Muppets

There are more cultural phenomenon that we connect with the holidays than songs. As mentioned a couple of days ago there are the Christmas plays in the UK, Christmas movies and also in Great Britain the tradition of the ghost story. None hit these parts more than Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. First published in 1843 the short story has been filmed, first time in 1901, and retold in so many iterations that listing them would fill a book. A staple during any holiday TV season the traditional retelling of it has now been replaced by one performed by The Muppets, with Micheal Caine as the cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge.

Muppet Christmas Carol is a musical version of Dickens’ story and several tunes are staples of, at least my holiday playlist. One of the standout numbers is It Feels Like Christmas performed by the ghost of Christmas present.  As the spirit takes Scrooge on a trip through the bustling London on a Christmas morning he describes the scenery and the emotions that belong to the actions of people during the season.  It is all set to music with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance making the listeners feel the love between men and women on this holiest of holidays.

The spirit of Christmas wants to remind Scrooge what the season is about and that there might be room for love in his heart. The tune embodies that sentiment and is performed with fervor.

A joyous tune that reminds us what Christmas is all about and that we should all revel in the message of love between us. That is why The Muppets’ song about the season is the 19th song on The List of Christmas Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Christmas Song nr. 18: Winter Song by Lindisfarne

When winter’s shadowy fingers
First pursue you down the street
And your boots no longer lie
About the cold around your feet

Do you spare a thought for summer
Whose passage is complete
Whose memories lie in ruins
And whose ruins lie in heat
When winter comes howling in

Winter Song is the third track on the debut album of progressive folk band Lindisfarne, formed in England in 1968, and has been hailed by Elvis Costello as the greatest song ever. Though opposing statements; when you’re doing this are you considering this?, the tune nicely builds up the spirit of the season and wraps it all up by anchoring it in the Biblical version.

When the turkey’s in the oven
And the Christmas presents are bought
And Santa’s in his module
He’s an American astronaut Do you spare one thought for Jesus
Who had nothing but his thoughts
Who got busted just for talking
And befriending the wrong sorts?
When winter comes howling in
When winter comes howling in

Written and performed by founding member Alan Hull (1945-1995)  the tune is a starch reminder of all those who may not have it as good as the rest of us, symbolized by summer, the gypsy, the lonely drunk and Jesus. It is a tune and a message we should all bear in mind this season when the world seems especially bleak.
For making us remember those who have less than us in a somber tune song number 18 is Winter Song by Lindisfarne on The Christmas List of Songs.
-Andrew Tobias

Christmas Song nr. 17: Christmas Bells by Bellowhead

Christmas songs are of many styles and origins; there are the classic carols, the American form sung by crooners of the 50s and 60s and the ones hailing from the 80s. These are all part of our joint cultural heritage and we pick them up through osmosis. The past years I have become more interested in the older, folkish, Christmas tunes of the United Kingdom and one such song, albeit released just recently, is Christmas Bells.

Released in 2013 by the folk ensemble Bellowhead it follows the pattern of the St. George Christmas plays an ancient Cornwall tradition with religious subtext. The actors, dressed in traditional Morris dancer style in shirt sleeves and white trousers, illustrate several characters like The Doctor, Father Christmas, The Dragon and St. George. They then re-enact the battle of St. George and The Dragon to dance, music and much merriment.

Bellowhead was an eleven piece folk orchestra that blended traditional folk songs with a more contemporary, almost burlesque style. To see them live was truly to see a spectacle and they had very popular Christmas shows. One could claim that Christmas Bells perfectly illustrates the type of music they produced.

Christmas Bells is fun, energetic and filled with classic allusions to the folk heritage of the UK. That is why it is song number 17 on The Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias

Review: The Last Sacrifice by James A. Moore

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release Date: 3 January 2017

 

The most common trope in the realm of fantasy literature has to be the battle between god and evil. It is as prevalent as the heart’s desire or the yearning to be more than one is, it is also what gives the protagonist the vehicle to make that change. In The Wood Beyond the World, regarded as the first fantasy novel, the hero Golden Walter battles an evil witch to save a princess and Frodo and his friends need to defeat the vile Sauron by destroying his proxy the one ring in Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings. These two books may be the two most important works in the genre and cement the idea of good vs evil. Once the genre moved into the modern era and the rise of a darker version of it began to appear with books like Grunts, where the orcs are heroes and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy where those who appear to be the heroes are not quite that. To turn tropes on their ear, flipping the script as it were, is what keeps genre fiction interesting and relevant.

The Last Sacrifice does this as well, and that might just be its core strength, the uncertainty of who to route for. To some readers, those who only read books for the familiarity of themes and tropes, this might break the trust between sender and receiver, but in this case that audience may just find that need satisfied as well.

When Brogan McTyre returns home he finds that his family, wife and three kids, are gone. In their place are four gold coins, the calling card of the Grakhul a tribe of people living on the outskirts of civilization. Hidden away in an are known as the Gateway the Grakhul, protected by the Five Kingdoms, sacrifices people to appease the Gods, leaving behind their calling card; one gold coin per person abducted.

Enraged Brogan and his friends raid the Gateway and the keep hidden inside it, but all in vain, his family has already been thrown into the bit. In a fury of revenge he kills all the Grakhul men and takes the women and children to sell them into slavery. The problem is that the dead and captured are not the real threat, they are mere worshipers of the Undying, the He-Kisshi, seemingly inhuman immortals who demand the sacrifices to live, but also to keep balance in the universe. A chase ensues as Brogan and his men hit the road, all the while chased by the Undying who want their followers back.

Moore’s story is an interesting experiment in the fantasy genre. He tells several parallel stories from several different vantage points, each with its own protagonist. There is little judgement from the narrator when it comes to deciding who is in the right here and it makes the reader sit on edge when trying to figure out who to root for. Each character is driven by desire; Brogan to find his family initially and then to escape the He-Kisshi, the He-Kisshi to find their followers and exact revenge, but also to restore balance, Myridia, a Grakhul woman wants to find a new place of sacrifice to continue her work and so on. There are very many different paths to follow and story lines that all intersect in the end. Brogan’s action set in motion such a slew of events that all threaten to culminate in one great climax. In the end it might be so that his need for revenge may destroy the entire world.

Moore plays his cards close to the vest and the information about how the different stories connect literally trickle through the pages creating suspense and thrills. As a reader this isn’t the only thing that immerses the tale in mystery. The fact that there are no real descriptions of the characters’ appearances or clothing and the sparse portrayal of the surroundings. Moore paints a vivid picture of what the characters do, feel or sense and the same is true for the milieu, but not how it appears and it allows the reader to delve deep into the self to conjure up images. It also allows relatively inexperienced readers of the genre to venture into the story without the preconceived ideas about what the genre is.

As stated earlier in this review the battle between good and evil often stand at the center of many a fantasy story, but in The Last Sacrifice it is difficult to pin down who belongs to what side. They all seem to have their own interpretation of who is right and who is wrong, and in the end that is the strength of this book.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

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