Christmas has a rich history of cultural ritual and personal custom, including all the trimmings of turkey, cartoons, family, and the inevitable awkwardness that ensues. It’s a time to be happy and humble, giving and grateful… and assimilate to the every whim of ma/pa, nanny/grampy and previously-estranged uncles/aunts and cousins who decided, for whatever reason, this was their year. The holidays are not always a joyous time for everyone because—let’s be honest—belonging is hard.
In 2012, an antidote to yuletide adversity was given unto man in the form of Lights and Frost, the 10th full length studio album by Gary Flanagan.
A self-proclaimed “quirky oddball outsider” who lives to express his love of experimental, 80’s-esque electronics, Flanagan knows how to stuff the stockings of an introvert’s heart. With over 20 years of experience as a musician, journalist, zinester and radio personality, it is safe to say that Flanagan is Saint John’s resident synth-pop artist extraordinaire.
The album is an eclectic mix of new material, cover songs of contemporary classics such as ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?‘ and re-imaginings of traditional hymns like ‘Good King Wenceslas.’ However, even seasoned listeners will find that what should be familiar is unique and new; this is not your church’s ‘Silent Night.’ There is a bold background buzz that permeates the mood of these songs. It is twisted and gothic, yet, in a skip of a track, it truly reverberates into the upbeat festive cheer of old.
Ringing with obvious influences, including the likes of The Human League, Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, the ghosts of New Wave Past haunt these blessed offerings in the most holy of ways!
One of the original compositions, ‘Christmas Time is Here’ chimes in with as much emotional resonance as any classic tune in the jubilee catalogue. While absorbing the melody, the repetitive synthesized beat drones up connotations of marching. It conjures up images of life-size nutcrackers robotically lumbering towards me, bearing gifts, candy and joy! The lyrics are catchy and heartfelt, and they pay homage to some of the most iconic and nostalgic imagery of the occasion;
“This sombre joy of Christmas time, I give this song to you!
This Christmas wish, these tidings pure, this love so grand and true.
Let’s raise a glass and share a toast… I bid you all the best!
Come gather round the fire, friends, I welcome you, cherished guests!
Silver bells are ringing. Hark! The angels singing.
Christmas. Christmas time is here. Christmas!
The angels sing and cheer.”
The standout cut is the opening cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas’; which is one of the most commercially successful modern solstice anthems and sits, arguably, among the best carols ever written. It has been interpreted by countless mainstream artists, including some guilty pleasures such as Billie Piper (of Doctor Who fame) and, recently, by Canadian pop-doll Carley Rae Jepsen. Flanagan impeccably captures the spirit of the era but also delivers a performance that comes from a place of genuine respect for what has come before.
Flanagan’s album is the present that keeps on giving. Over five years it has become part of my family’s yearly routine. It has provided a festive outlet for the weirdo, loner goth kid who felt like they never fit in, which is something that appealed to my own eccentricities. I am so deeply grateful for this collection and I sincerely hope that others will share my delight!