Since Christian indie pin-up boy’s Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas came out as a boxed set in 2006, releasing a Christmas EP has become du jour for indie Christian bands, something we ought not complain about.
Historically, Christmas albums have tended to become over-produced baubles of treacly carol-butchered mess, but the rise of the alternative Christmas album means while the carols might still be considered butchered, they’re at least invigorated with a stripped back, raw aesthetic, which better fits the story of the baby in the feeding trough, don’t you think?
Among the notables this year sit these two prime examples: Repeat the Sounding Joy by Citizens and Page CXVI’s Advent to Christmas. By keeping songs simple and singing with heart from a deep place of joy in the incarnate Christ, these two albums avoid the cheesiness of many Christmas albums.
Citizens is a band formed at Mars Hill Church in the University district of Seattle, a city regarded to be the home of indie rock since the grunge scene of the 90s emerged from its depths (read: Nirvana, Pearl Jam).
Citizens bring a rough, punky edge to Christian staples, the carols on this EP notwithstanding. Repeat the Sounding Joy opens to the sounds of sleighbells and a bass riff, building to a fully developed rock version of ‘Joy to the World’, with synths and pounding drums. It sets the tone for the EP, which is a high energy, happy, yet intense affair.
‘Hark the Herald’ continues the celebratory atmosphere with a horn section. It’s followed by the rare and beautiful medieval Dutch carol ‘Come and Stand Amazed You People’. Its beautiful lyrics invite the listener to see the humble God made flesh: “He is wisdom’s crown, our King/ See how tender our Defender/ At whose birth the angels sing.”
Page CXVI, who have made a ministry out of reworking traditional hymns, have a much softer, more lyrical sound. Characterised by a delicate beauty, Advent to Christmas has a sense of anticipation of the Messiah, who has come to fulfil the hopes of Israel and all the world.
Hymns like ‘Awake My Soul, Awake My Tongue’, ‘Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus’ and ‘Comfort, Comfort Now My People’ develop this anticipation, before the EP finds its climax in ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, exhorting the listener to come and adore the Christ child.
Both Page CXVI and Citizens end their EPs with Silent Night, the quiet lullaby we all know and love so well. It works in both cases, coming as an effective denouement after the anthemic energy of Citizens and as a logical end point for Page CXVI’s softer selection.
Whether you’re after a rollicking, Jesus-loving Christmas EP, or a more reflective, subdued but beautiful offering, these indie Christian bands have got the goods.