Writing in the middle of a heatwave about a band called Merry Christmas. Does it get much more ironic than that?
Merry Christmas are a UK/Japan quintet featuring a sibling to a member of the brilliant Gut Waxy. These elements alone pricked up our ears and demanded we take a listen to their debut full length album ‘The Night The Night Fell’.
They share some of the elements of their siblings band – Ben George sharing his brother’s high vocal register, catchy melodies and off kilter, cartoonish, expansive structures. Their overall approach is perhaps more aligned with the twee core sound of early Los Campesinos and Architecture In Helsinki.
Their endearing quirks and catchy, playful sense of melody are instantly charming.
Superghost opens the album with plucked staccato strings, a strange time signature, and whacky effects. Sections morph and shape shifts around the same rhythm with the drums expanding and contracting the dynamics. It gives a decent indicator of what else is to come, with delightful group vocals and the light theremin in the swooning final section.
There is a childlike giddiness and extreme confidence that really hits home in Shapes Appearing. It’s glockenspiel led, which kind of went out of vogue in the mid 2000s, so it’s great to hear it. The fizzy stop start drums and guitars, then half time sway lead to crashing keys, discordant, distorted bursts and gentle phasing key washes. The abstract lyrics are delivered with an achingly beautiful vocal melody. The backing vocals are also gorgeous and it rightly ends completely a cappella.
Merry Christmas’s sound is a statement. It is unabashed and brilliant.
Darkness Will Find Us All provides a great build up of harmony and playful vocal and keyboard melodies that follow each other. For whatever reason this brings images of kittens dressed as cowboys. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it… or maybe you won’t!
Forest Of Bones introduces horns that weave through chiming emo guitars and an odd 5/4 time signature. It’s sugary sweet, almost dangerously so. Some may find it annoying, but they probably have no sense of joy.
That said, there seems to be an awareness from the band that we might need a breather, which is provided by the soft slow plucked guitars of First Lull. There is plenty of space and subtle synth atmospherics that compliment the soft vocal lead by Yuki Nishimura.
The album is neatly compiled. Magnets melts softly in from previous track. Pulsing gentle percussion, twinkling glockenspiel and delicate guitars syncopate before drums shuffle in to create a post rock instrumental segment. The refrain with bi-lingual vocal line (“When’s it over?” In both languages) is sweet. Those now familiar bursting, guitar stabs come in at the end for a lightly rousing finish.
All bands who delve into strange time signatures need great drummers
Merry Christmas certainly have one in Matthew John Thoren. The frantic yet precise stop start intro of Meredith Bites The Earth certainly exhibits this. Joe-Joe Moran-Douglas’s subtle walking bassline in the chorus and Yurie “Barihi” Yamaguchi’s lilting trombone suggest hints of Neutral Milk Hotel influence.
Fantoft plays with quick call and response phasing vocals which instantly recalls the wonderful Bearsuit at their most mischievous. In parts it also has a similar feel to emo bands like The Anniversary. This particularly comes through in the guitar chord choices and keyboard lines. There are moments of delightful feedback and chaos before it becomes musically freeform and bursts into another cartoonish finale.
Distant Mountains, Singing provides another breather of sorts. It’s a short vignette that we strangely join towards the end of the finale of the opening track. Perhaps originally an alternative ending? Sonically it’s much different, with woozy, distant, keyboards and fuzzy robotic guitars.
For The Lulls also brings back the gorgeous melody of First Lull but applies it in an entirely different way.
It’s also a lyrical continuation – the same “Stuart Stuart no” motif reoccurring. Opening with just acoustic guitar and vocals followed by a great choppy instrumental with a great groove when all instruments come in. It’s packed with exciting moments; fun swooning “oohs”, some brilliant build up of harmonies and almost constant use of tension and release. It’s dizzying.
It combines all the elements we’ve heard so far into one song at just over 6 minutes. The song constantly sounds as if it’s on the verge of completely collapsing and falling down the stairs. The absolutely rocking guitars before the handclap ending make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Deerhoof-esque and a massive highlight.
Changes To Numbers Broken resumes from the outro to the previous track. Shimmering toy pianos and glockenspiel combine with stop start drums. With yet another great melody, parping trombones, and drums that crescendo and crash triumphantly. The telephone effect vocals bring a lofi edge to the gorgeous shimmering keys.
Rounding things off, Tivoli instantly recalls early Los Campesinos in it’s melody and dual vocals.
George sounds very much like Gareth Paisey here. It builds with a light drone and more of those wonderful Neutral Milk Hotel trombones. The finale brings one last burst of triumphant melody.
If all the cutest toys in a toy shop assembled all the instruments in the preschool section and started a band it would probably sound something like Merry Christmas (they’d undoubtedly be called something like that too!). They play with what seems like a sense of constant wonderment that they are alive. From start to finish The Night The Night Fell is an effervescent delight.
A truly exceptional debut album and sure to feature on our end of year list.
Someone please release this on vinyl!
You may enjoy this if you like: Los Campesinos, Architecture In Helsinki, Upset Stomach, Deerhoof, Gut Waxy, Belle And Sebastian, The Anniversary