It’s a well known (scary) fact, that Christmas comes earlier every year and the turning cogs of the merchandise world have already begun spinning madly out of control as revenue hungry business makers from around the globe launch a united attack against our senses…and of course…our wallets. Nevertheless, we must grin and bear it, and the latest holiday themed album to be released by vocal supergroup Pentatonix, makes it a little easier to do so. The a Capella quintet have turned their arranging eyes to some new and old Christmas tunes which, for the most part, will have us smiling all the way to the shops. Charming and endearing with just the right amount of cheese, That’s Christmas To Me is a light, interesting and enjoyable listen.
Opening with the ever favoured Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Tchaikovsky, listeners are immediately drawn in by the use of interesting rhythmical techniques and sound effects. Filled with soaring highs and plummeting lows as can be heard around 1:40, the song quickly reminds us of the combined talent found in lead singers Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, bass vocalist Avi Kaplan, and Beatboxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola. Their interpretations throughout the album are fresh, modern and reflect the vibrancy of their youth. As a team they bring instrument-less music to new hieghts.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing starts out traditional with slow, wondrous four part harmonies but soon breaks out into an upbeat, energetic and joyous celebration of song. It’s not unlike something you might hear on the soundtrack to Sister Act 2, with an air of 90’s rap meets gospel soul. Avi Kaplan comes into his own on track number three as he croons through It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Say what you want about pre-packaged, sugar coated studio produced bands, Kaplan’s vocal abilities in the lowest of musical registers is second to none. Annoyingly, it’s followed by a cover of Let It Go, the overplayed, over hyped theme song to Disney’s Frozen and whilst it is a nice rendition, arguably better and more interesting than the original, it would have been nice to hear them do something different here.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Sleigh Ride are both playful and bright with a laid back groove best highlighted by the group’s vocal percussionist Kevin “K.O.” Olusola. Nestled in between these is a gentle rendition of Silent Night which showcases Pentatonix’s knack for arranging songs in an engaging and aurally pleasing fashion.
Without a doubt the strongest track on this album is an original song penned by the singers themselves and featured as the title track That’s Christmas To Me. Heartfelt and sweet, Pentatonix does a great job at capturing the feeling of Christmas through their lyrics and emotive harmonies which are sure to melt even the coldest of hearts. Coming in as a close second, is their cover of Fleet Foxes White Winter Hymnal and rounding out the record is their take on Winter Wonderland which is sung in the style of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy. It’s a nice way to finish the album and will leave listeners feeling as light as a powder soft snowflake.
That’s Christmas To Me is a great listen both for the sheer pleasure of having it on in the background as you decorate the Christmas tree, and for the stellar display of the capabilities of the human voice. It showcases the unique talents of each vocalist whilst blending them all together smoothly and offers a young, modern take on some well known, yet extremely over visited Christmas classics. They also breathe life into a few lesser known holiday tunes whilst presenting us with some new material in the form of an original Christmas song that is sure to gain popularity as the big day approaches. It’s hard to avoid coming across as cheesy and over commercialised when it comes to making a Christmas cover album and Pentatonix are by no means an exception to this rule but they do have the edge in terms of giving us something unique, creative and refreshing to listen to this holiday season.