Up until a couple years ago, quality holiday music was pretty hard to come by. With cringe-worthy stuff like Manheim Steamroller and other overwrought crud playing just about everywhere you turned during the last month of the year, it seemed like the only respite to be found was with Vince Guaraldi or Bing Crosby if you were really feeling things. Other than some random one-off holiday songs from more indie-based artists, it seemed like there was few and far between. Then, before you knew it, Low had released a nice EP of Christmas-themed music, and this year Sufjan Stevens dropped a sprawling set of his own.
Throwing a completely different entry into the holiday-based music is now Tor Lundvall. Following on the heels of his self-described "ghost ambient" album Empty City, his Yule EP is fairly similar in terms of overall sound, but takes a much different angle than most releases of this nature. As can probably be expected, the Yule EP will probably cause more confused wordless silence than celebratory sing-alongs if you throw it on the stereo at your family get-together, and yet the stark songs manage to capture the side of the season that most people try to shift away from as soon as possible.
Let's face it; just about everyone gets a little sad around the holidays. For some people, it's because they can't be with loved ones because of one reason or another. For others, the time spent with family is simply overwhelming in and of itself, even if there are no surrounding issues otherwise. I've personally felt the numbness of finishing holiday shopping amongst buzzing stores, standing in endless lines while bad holiday music and snippets from one hundred different conversations melt into a loud drone. Expectations and obligations weigh on you, and oftentimes you just want some silence after it's all over.
The above feelings are the ones that I get a sense of Lundvall capturing on this release. "Busy Station" is far more soft and soothing than you'd imagine it to be, with puffy synth pads floating out to endless horizons while the sound of transit is hinted at in the background. "Christmas Eve" is one of several vocal tracks on the release and Lundvall adds his breathy words to billowy layers of melody and a steady, but completely unobtrusive beat. The lyrics are somewhat obvious, but everything blurs together so nicely that it feels more like a fever dream than a statement.
The rest of the release plays out with more minimal ambient pieces ("Snowy Morning" and "Fading Light") and a couple more vocal-based tracks. The standouts of those is "January," an absolutely haunting piece that's all hinted-at bell notes and deep layers of synth that swirl around Lundvall's vocals like it's again dreamtime. The closing tracks on the release (which make up nearly half its length) move into even more dark, droning territory, spiraling even further away from the more concise feel of the rest of the release and into a deep slumber inside a snowdrift. So yeah, unless everyone is near passed-out on eggnog, this one probably won't be a big hit at your holiday party, but if you're looking for music to help you wind down from the seasonal slog, the Yule EP might be the answer.