With A Very Chilly Christmas, Chilly Gonzales has created a masterful album made up of mostly piano pieces, that manages the not unimpressive feat of creating what sounds like a very traditional Christmas album yet still defies expectations. Throughout, his use of minor keys brings a solemn, sometimes soul-searching touch of austere class to the music, that delights and intrigues without ever unsettling.
Each of the tracks here is like its very own, beautifully wrapped present. You kind of know what you’re going to get, but you’re not sure until you finally unwrap it. A great example would be the wonderful reinterpretation of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, which starts with an almost mournful refrain. Chilly cleverly counts on the fact that we know the words, the piano sadly singing about last Christmas. Yet, as the track progresses, it becomes a light, uplifting piece of music. Rather than the emphasis on what was, instead we’re thinking of the possibilities of this year. You’re truly listening to an old song with new ears. A magic trick that Chilly somehow manages to pull off with each track. (Those of you currently battling through Whamageddon are reminded that only the original version counts!)
As well as the instrumental pieces there are some full songs as well, the first track featuring Jarvis Cocker being the most surprising. A spoken word interpretation of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, his voice a whispered awe, draws us in like a crooked finger, promising a wondrous discovery. Don’t worry, Cocker doesn’t go the full Shatner, and does sing on other tracks in the album yet, despite being a huge fan, I found him eclipsed by another contributor. Feist, a Canadian indie artist, appears on ‘The Banister Bough’, an original track by Chilly. Her vocals are sublime, bringing a soulful breathiness to a jazzy piano piece.
Often with Christmas albums you’re waiting for the original tracks to finish so you can get back to your familiar favourites. Not here. Not at all. But despite her obvious talent, the reason she stands out so strongly is the quality of the material she’s working with. Chilly has given us what sounds like a traditional Christmas song, and it’s only when you focus in on the words you realise you’ve been ever so slightly hoodwinked, and you’re quietly singing along and advocating a more eco-friendly approach to the holiday. Another magic trick.
As you listen this album surrounds and fills you; Chilly could be playing the whole thing just for you. It’s an intimate, personal experience but one you’ll want to share with friends and loved ones. This is a timeless collection of Christmas music that will move and comfort. A Very Chilly Christmas is the album we didn’t know we needed for the long, dark nights of 2020, but we so do. Thank you Mr Gonzales!
A Very Chilly Christmas is out now digitally, and on CD and Vinyl on 18th December.