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Indie Turns Sickeningly Sweet for "Holidays Rule"

By Emily Herbst
On December 5, 2012

Upon a first listen to "Holidays Rule," the 17-track Christmas music compilation, shock may take ahold of the ears. Prominent indie artists like The Head and the Heart, The Civil Wars, The Shins and Heartless Bastards collaborate to produce an altogether audibly-unpleasant holiday collection. Covering classics like "Auld Lang Syne," "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "The Christmas Song," the otherwise inventive artists transform treasured carols into saccharine pop. Furthermore, their voices are altered to assumingly retain that signature "Top-40" feel.
The album starts with fun. - who, unfortunately, delivers something contrary to what you'd expect of their name. Singing a rendition of "Sleigh Ride" (or in their usual case, an auto-tuned chant), the group brings shame to the Leroy Anderson tune. I'm not sure if it's Nate Ruess' grating voice or the perpetual laser beam noises, but next time, leave the alien/intergalactic sound effects out.
Even the next song, which features the Shins covering the beloved Paul McCartney tune "Wonderful Christmastime," fails. This is perhaps the greatest let-down of the EP, seeing as the Shins are highly regarded as a band with a very natural and appealing indie sound. On "Holidays Rule," this is simply not the case. Scratchy and unsettling instrumentation laid the foundation for the saddening sub par vocals of James Mercer.
The saving grace of the album is Paul McCartney's cover of "The Christmas Song." Unlike the others, Paul sticks with a natural sound, despite the noticeable - but inevitable - hint of aging. The performance is overall smoothly sung, providing a breather for the musical mess to come.
Other tolerable tracks are "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by the Civil Wars and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" by the Punch Brothers, both of which feature acoustic, woodsy instrumentals and matching eclectic vocals. Additionally, Irma Thomas and Preservation Hall Jazz Band surprise listeners with a pleasantly jazzy "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas," the only song worthy of replay.
Those completely undeserving of spots on the record would have to be Holly Golightly and Black Prairie, whose voices and rhythm defame indie rock and turn Christmas into a Christ-mess. Most will not last for the full listen, anyway.
The problem with this Christmas collection is a split between the overly digitalized production and the purely inappropriate artist-song pairings. Not every talent is meant to perform covers, especially that of Christmas songs. For your seasonal and holiday anticipation, skip this one and honor Christmas with the originals.

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