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HO HO WHO: Pacific Northwest sad-bastard veteran David Bazan, former bandleader of Pedro The Lion, returns this holiday season with an LP-length collection of his dour-faced Christmas 7” singles from the last decade and a half. The album—aptly titled Dark Sacred Night—tracks Bazan’s Christmas spirit as he publicly transitioned from devout christian to vocal agnostic. Throughout his songwriting career, Bazan has never skirted his darkest narrative impulses, so it makes sense that his renditions of Christmas songs are more interested in the unspoken existential crises of the seasonal traditions over naive cheeriness. David Bazan: ruining Christmas since 2002.
DISMAY-NGER: Gloominess is hardcoded into the composition and lyrical content of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” As the melody slinks across a melancholy minor mode, the narrator implores listeners—we “merry” gentle-persons—to “let nothing you dismay,” which seems to suggest some level of distress. Bazan takes that emotional conflict to another level of depressing in his rendition, delivering the traditional lines in a pained whisper over a distant acoustic guitar strum, and capping the song with two original jet-black verses. The first details the narrator’s Ghost of Christmas Past, as he remembers his parents’ manger scene and the convenient appearance of the Baby Jesus figurine on Christmas morning. In the second, the song’s final verse, the narrator finds himself in his parents’ position, now numb with years of doubt, questioning himself as he continues a tradition in which he no longer believes.
TIDINGS OF DISCOMFORT: In “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” Bazan is just one drink of Christmas whiskey away from becoming a mean drunk. His performance here, as well as on the rest of the record, is straight-faced and earnest as hell—at times bordering on self-unawareness. This track is exemplary of Bazan’s simultaneous strength and weakness: that confronting the most uncomfortable personal feelings through song makes for an uncomfortable listen. There are plenty of sad sacks out there who will gladly swallow this bitter holiday-themed pill, but I don’t recommend you pull out this version at your family party, unless you have a prescription for an SSRI on your Christmas list.
CHEER FACTOR: 0 / 10. It’s almost like Bazan has forgotten the reason for the season. But that’s fine, because most of us probably have by now as well anyway.