TORI AMOS has entered the festive spirit with her latest EP, Christmastide, making her contribution to what’s really become quite the thing again since Low brought a whole new aesthetic to a genre that had become a little debased and strongly cheesy in the years prior to their Christmas EP/mini-album (No. Surely you have. You must).
There’s two ways of approaching a festive song, and Low, and later Sufjan Stevens, have taken both: write an original; or bring your own interpretation to one of the many standards and carols that define this month.
Tori has taken the former route; her new EP contains four finely-honed originals for the holiday season.
The EP has actually been out since the 4th, and the limited vinyl with accompanying art print and Christmas card from the lady herself has long gone over at her label, Decca; but you can still find copies online for reasonable prices if you’re quick.
In a year which … look, we all know what a grind it’s been, Tori says: “With ‘Christmastide’ it was important to be positive and to try and lift people’s spirits.
“It’s a time of year that should be joyful with family and friends but also can sadly be a very lonely place for some.
“Many families will be unable to be together this year because of the pandemic, as well as many that are also dealing with the aftermath of a long and bitter US election.
“I hope these songs contained in this beautiful package can be a small treat to help along the way.”
Like every artist creating currently, the ‘rona blew all of Tori’s events clean out of the water, including a May book-signing tour Stateside in support of her bestseller, Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story Of Hope, Change, And Courage.
She says: “We will get through these tough times together with strength in unity and hope.”
So what glad tidings doth Christmastide bring?
The title track comes first, as is only right and good; the opening melody hints at some ages-old Christmas standard, buried deep in the Western brain; it took me a couple of listens to realise it absolutely suggested “Little Drummer Boy” without in any way deriving from it at all. Clever. The song references the grand Yule tradition in such a subconscious way. Melodically, It’s everything you need Tori to be; her voice, in harmony with herself and double-tracked, the song taking harmonic twists that engage you on a deeper level than mere pop fluff. It conveys the seasonal message in such a way that it’s not stateswoman of female does Christmas; it’s Tori writing a song which happens to reference and be imbued with December festivities.
“Circle Of Seasons” is a duskier folk-acknowledging beast. It glides in a swing beat, is harmonically lush; you could maybe imagine Sandy Denny doing something with this circa The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. Think an English forest silhouetted against that deep blue you get as your rods and cones switch.
“Holly” is the rich truffle centre of the EP, scented with evening mystery in its verse before lofting crisply into a soar of a chorus. It’s almost got a Laurel Valley vibe, like it’s been out in the ether just waiting for the right antennae to tune in and limn it into more concrete form.
The final track led as a single, so we’ve embedded the lyric video herein. “Better Angels” is none-more-Tori and diverges not an inch from her songcraft, refusing to give into to the simple seduction of sleighbells and the like. It’s chordally complex; rock guitar bite is laden over Tori’s trademark piano, with lyrics that take the theme of coming redemptive forces which runs deep through the Christmas tale. “Unfreeze those wings / That you dreamed in your chrysalis,” she instructs, appeals.
It’s an odd task to undertake, the reviewing of a Christmas EP. Like the period itself, it stands outside the flow of normal time. But you can definitely say that Tori takes the concept and pulls it to herself and makes of it something thoughtful, and intelligent, and nuanced, while still abiding by the deeper Christmas themes of hope and renewal. There ain’t no tartan scarves here.