Remembering Chestnuts, Icy Cold, and Bells
Subsequent Records (2011)
Over the years I have reviewed some unconventional holiday music releases, but Remembering Chestnuts, Icy Cold, and Bells by Jim Combs, aka Sensitive Chaos, is likely the most unconventional one yet. Combs is an electronic music artist well-known for his affiliation with the City Skies concert series. Rather than take the "safe" route and merely use his arsenal of synthesizers to record the classics, Combs has instead created seasonal soundscapes that, through his choice of synthesizer sounds, captures the festive magic of this special time of year. In his liner notes, Combs recalls listening to holiday records with his family growing up, with music made up of bells, organs, pianos, and choirs. He also recounts being deeply affected by a holiday recording on the pioneering digital label Second Hearing. All of the myriad influences have culminated in this unique combination of lively electronic pieces, punctuated by twinkling bell tones, crystalline textures, and syncopated rhythms, the latter of which may call to mind wooden soldiers marching round the Christmas tree. Besides the cheery selections on the CD, which I found to be charming and refreshingly light-hearted, there is a well-done ambient number, Winter Winds Across the Heartland, that evokes the titular picture of a stark and somber, yet beautiful, landscape, via icy synth pads, whistling quavering tones, and underlying drones. The other selections on the disc are variations on the formula heard on the opening title track, althoughRemembering Chestnuts, Icy Cold, and Bells (prologue) has a more overt retro-EM feel to it, and less of a holiday-esque coloring, especially when the rhythms drop off and Combs moves into flowing ambient territory. One last fact that may amaze you (it did me) is that all but one of the pieces (the sole exception is the non-holiday-themed bonus track at the end of the CD) were recorded at live concerts! Color me mega-impressed!
|- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 11/27/2011|