Save Christmas (Untitled/Unfinished) – Crystal Castles Unreleased intsrumental demo
Ethan Kath has always had a reputation for prolificity. Behind their three albums thus-far, there is an estimated forty or fifty unreleased demo tracks by Crystal Castles, the dynamic synthesiser noise-rock duo, previously fronted by manical queen bitch Alice Glass and currently awaiting instructions, with new singer Edith Frances looming ominously on the band’s horizon. Save Christmas is one such demo, leaked to the internet by goodness-knows-who, goodness-knows-when. It’s an instrumental and, sadly, lacks Glass’ visceral feminity as well as any tangible link to Christmas other than in its name. However, it’s jubilant bouyancy is vaguely festive (I guess?) and it stands out as one of the poppiest and ecstatic numbers in the Kath catalogue with bit-crushed NES sound effects and a sweet glitch-pop key change.
There isn’t a complete copy of this track on YouTube – only a clip. Check it out over on SoundCloud.
Rocking Carol – New Order (1982) Track from the free flexi-single, Merry Xmas from the Haçienda and Factory Records
Released in a limited edition (thank Christ) of 4400 and given away free at Manchester’s Haçienda nightclub around Christmastime 1982, this absymal 7” flexi-disc release from New Order contains two unforgivable covers, each as disgusting as the other. My personal favourite (by which I mean, the one that churned my guts over the least), is Rocking Carol, a vocoder-drenched rendition of the traditional Czech carol, most famously Anglicised as Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep. As with the following track, Ode To Joy (an utterly terrible Beethoven homage), the vocals are indistinguishable and the novelty of the initially cool saw-wave synth wears off impossibly fast. Crappy as this disc is, it is an item in the Factory catalogue and, if nothing else, the typography and design are still neat. And hey – it’s actually worth checking out…you know…just in case your boundaries for what makes a decent Christmas tune had slipped…
Always on My Mind – Pet Shop Boys (1988) Single from the album, Introspective
Whilst not technically a Christmas song, Always on My Mind was Number 1 in the UK charts on December 25 1988 – and after all, Neil and Chris did perform it on Christmas Top Of The Pops, which, back in the day, meant an awful lot. Regardless of its relation (or lack of) to everybody’s favourite Winter holiday, Pet Shop Boys’ bounding, eurodisco-influenced cover of this regretful standard is a true 80s gem. It’s also available in a plethora of versions: the album cut and Phil Harding 12” remix run for eleven and six minutes respectively and are spliced with an acid house original entitled Always In My House, over which Tennant drly intones a list of almost schizophrenic alternatives as to why the song’s subject deserves the lack of loving that the rest of the song apologises so profusely for. As ever, Chris Lowe’s synths are sharply produced, danceable and exquisitely mixed – it’s an eclectic cover for sure, but a truly great one.
Stop! – Erasure (1988) Single from the EP, Crackers International
I guess some wouldn’t consider Crackers International to be a festive release – it lacks the gaudy Xmas overtones of most seasonal releases. But, whether you agree with that statement or not, this EP, issued in two parts (each with snowy sleeves; the latter featuring a cover of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) is widely considered one of the synthpop duo’s strongest releases ever. All four songs are excellent and each features the classic Erasure aesthetic, mixed and polished to within an inch of its life by analog synthesis wizard Vince Clarke, whose camp companion, Andy Bell, frolics madly with falsetto choruses and an unmistakable, pleading tone. I undersell it too – there are some very Christmassy moments on this record, especially that wonderful middle-eight in Stop! complete with sleigh-bells and a festive-sounding scale-run that recalls the coda of many a 70s Christmas single. It’s really good synthpop – don’t miss it.
Christmas Shoppers Paradise – Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (1990) Track from the free single, Christmas Shoppers Paradise (a.k.a. Christmas As Fuck)
This graphic description of chaotic mall-shopping later appeared on London synth-punks Carter USM’s sophomore effort 30 Somethings in 1991; here, it would simply be titled Shoppers Paradise. The Christmas prior however, it was handed out in this now-alternative version, free to audience members at the band’s December 14th Town & Country Club show in Kentish Town. It’s largely similar to the later album cut (bar the introductory newsreader sample) and, I must confess, it’s one of my enduring Carter favourites. Frontman Jim Bob’s cynical, idiosyncratic lyrics deliver a fantastically postmodern punk, a kind with the energy of its late 70s predecessors but the fatigued attitude emblamatic of early 90s Britain, all Thatchered-out: “Ozone friendly rape alarms for those blinding dates / Another summer of hate”. As you can see, the consumerist rush quickly gets a bit much for some people…
Check out our YouTube playlist for Pretending To See The Future #8 below.