Glasvegas’ announcement that they were to spend the latter part of a phenomenally successful summer retreating to Transylvania to record a proper, chime-flecked Christmas album – complete with Romanian choir – was greeted in some quarters with stifled guffaws.
Glasgow’s doom-pop henchmen, swapping their beloved Buckfast for the cultural surrounds of Carpathian mythology and mass, mountainous grandeur? Indeed. But ‘A Snowflake Fell…’ is no gag – Glasvegas not only have a genuine passion for this sort of thing that makes The Wombats’ Chrimbo effort sound like Las Ketchup, but they continue to operate with a level of sincerity that some will always find uncomfortable.
The truth is though, had they recorded this atop a roller disco in Faliraki, it would still be awash with the orchestral, monochrome glory that seeps from every hushed sleigh bell that tugs the heartstrings like a melting snowman with a lit cigarette replacing the carrot. ‘A Snowflake…’ is a Christmas release, but succeeds by sharing more of a sonic palette with the likes of Danny Elfman’s frosty orchestral leanings (see the sublime Edward Scissorhands O.S.T.) than the scuzzy rapture of The Jesus & Mary Chain. A Christmas which not only finds James Allen pondering the often vacant sensations of a time that habitually ends in a bin full of scrap wrapping paper and a heady, post-port migraine, but sees him yet again tearing the heart from his leather-clad sleeve and hitting record.
Opener ‘Careful What You Wish For’ signals its arrival. “Christmas time / is here again,” sings Allen, as vast organ clinks crouch amid the arrival of the angelic Concentus Choir, which appears throughout. It’s the point in any album that leaves those with a pocketful of cynicism crinkling their brows and the fans rejoicing, a mere three seconds in: perfect.
‘Fuck You, It’s Over’ follows. It’s their most frank, venom-bullet moment yet, which come the outro finds Allen screaming, “You’re dead to me,” amid a wave of low-slung toms and distortion-drenched bass pops. It may be discomfortingly honest, but what is great rock ‘n’ roll if not an open-book of emotions?
Returning to the strung-out, feverish feedback strains that graced ‘Daddy’s Gone’ comes ‘Cruel Moon’, a gut-wrenching paean to the homeless that sums up Chrimbo like a happy slap to the unwanted iPod generation. The album’s high point, however, comes with ‘A Snowflake Fell’. Taking in a comparable otherworldly opening segment again echoing Elfman, it’s one of their finest moments yet – a beautiful, piano-led spine-tingler that builds into a sea of choral harmonies and dreamy bells.
It finishes up with the Concentus Choir hushing out ‘Silent Night (Noapte De Vis)’. No trickery, no pretension – a real Christmas album that echoes its icy surroundings perfectly. You’ll have made up your mind about Glasvegas by now, but one thing is for sure: ‘A Snowflake Fell…’ is their own six-track gift to the world this Christmas.