Another perfect Aqualads surf-rockin’ rendition of a Christmas classic, Angels We Have Heard On High. Plus a bonus: Cantus’ version of Pat A Pan, or The Little Drummer Boy. I’ve spent a goodly portion of this holiday season trying to decide if I like this or not, and after much agonizing, I have realized that I do. Very danged much, I do. It seems stilted, cramped, and clumsy at first; my thought was that this was some tight-assed military-chorus version of the song, and it still sounds a bit like it to me in the beginning. Just too regimented, no soul at all; forgive me for saying it, but dammit, too white. It just all sounds…I dunno, off, somehow. The phrasing on the first verse, with the solo voice; then the duet, and if anything, that’s worse.
But damn, I shoulda known better. Wade through it; endure the white-boy lack of rhythm all through the first verse, the second verse, and then that interminable percussion solo in the middle, and BOOM: suddenly you have perfect, seamless, layered, multi-part harmony guaranteed to make you shiver from the toes up. I mean, when those guys turn it loose, all of a sudden, well…POWER. Real, true power, that has nothing at all to do with individual voices, or anything achievable by mere human effort. Just lend an ear and tell me I’m wrong.
I’ve been looking around, and I cannot for the life of me find the version they’re playing on the classical music college station around here that I listen to all day every day. That version is a much more perfect illustration of what I’m talking about; the phrasing on the first two verses is way more odd, it’s a much more spare arrangement. But this version is close enough; it still takes off hard after that drum solo, and achieves flight in a wholly lovely way. Maybe it doesn’t kick in afterburners and go straight skyward once it’s wheels up, but it still soars before it floats gracefully back to earth.
I’ve been saying for years now that you can’t be a truly serious musician without believing in whatever you may choose to call God. Maybe the best proof of that is just how fucking GOOD Christmas music is. Transcendent, powerful, moving, all of it; just gorgeous, in ways that no other music can approach. Even a simple little confection like Away In A Manger can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when it’s done right, and the available permutations and improvisations on all these songs we’ve heard eight bazillion times are endless. That just can’t signify nothing, or so I believe.