Album review: Merry Christmas – The Night The Night Fell

Merry Christmas describe themselves as a “ten-legged festive wonder tank from Tokyo, Japan”. Initially a three-piece of Ben George, Matthew John Thoren, and Joe-Joe Moran-Douglas – brought together through a mutual appreciation of Neutral Milk Hotel – the (excellently named) band, also consisting of Yuki Nishimura, and Yurie “Barihi” Yamaguchi, are quite an unusual proposition to say the least. Since the release of their first EP, The Flying Trombone Sisters, in 2014, the band have steadily developed an underground following and a distinctive sound which combines elements of folk, psych, math rock, and power pop. While it’s true that their sound won’t be for everyone, it’s certainly unique and – in my opinion at least – rather wonderful.

Put simply, The Night The Night Fell is an astounding debut LP. Musically, the five-piece could be described using adjectives such as restless, erratic, or perhaps even hyperactive. Their songs typically contain multitudes of melodic ideas, tempo and time signature changes, as well as radical shifts in instrumentation – and often all in the same three minutes. On first listen, I found myself either smiling from ear to ear, or becoming aware that my jaw was hanging wide open. Even now, having heard the whole thing several times, I still feel the same way.

Before beginning this review, I described the sound of the album to my friend as being kind of like early-90s Flaming Lips playing the music of late-90s/early-00s Flaming Lips: utterly inspired, utterly joyful, and full of childlike wonder. There’s a narrative running through the twelve tracks too; as we join the subconscious journey of a girl who has tragically fallen into a coma. In this respect it’s quite reminiscent of Wayne Coyne and Co. and, come to think of it, the artwork (which is also excellent) bears some similarities to that of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.

The album opens with the jarringly discordant Superghost. I always think there’s an element of bravery in beginning a project with something potentially divisive, especially now when you’re lucky if a listener streams 15 seconds before moving on to the next thing, but the band set out their stall early here: you’re either on board or you’re not. By the final third, if you’re still there, you’re rewarded (not for the last time) with a glorious, anthemic finish.

Next up is the current single, Shapes Appearing. Built around what is essentially a simple chord progression (although one that is anything but simple in its execution) the track is a gorgeous explosion of achingly beautiful melodies. The arrangement features a stop/start, machine gun-like drum part in the verse that – playing in tandem with guitar – reminds me of early Vampire Weekend. Alongside this sit glockenspiel and the playful male and female lead vocals that are a real feature of Merry Christmas’ sound. The final third in particular is a treat, with luscious, slightly wonky layered harmonies lifting the song to dizzying heights. I’ve listened through several times and I still get the vibe of early-00s Super Furry Animals coming through, which is no bad thing.

The following trio of songs – Darkness Will Find Us All, Forest of Bones, and First Lull – pass by in much the same vein, with the frenetic opening of Darkness… leading into a deceptive shape-shifting song that seems to change time signature at will. First Lull is the first real change of pace and sonic texture on the record, and with its acoustic guitar and glockenspiel developing into a beautiful, simple song, it’s a highlight. Lines such as “I’ll be in the attic, I’ll be made of snow” make a beeline straight for the heart.

Magnets is another highlight. Beginning with a minute-long instrumental intro and featuring some neat trombone playing from Yamaguchi, the song soon goes widescreen and builds into a glorious climax. Meredith Bites the Earth follows, once again featuring some inspired drumming, Omnichord, and overlapping counterpoint vocal melodies. At this point everything kind of begins to feel like an embarrassment of riches. On one level it’s kind of like being bludgeoned to death with pretty melody, but on the other it’s just great fun. Hot on the heels of Meredith… comes Fantoft, about which in my original notes I wrote: “Arcade Fire in a parallel universe where they were half as interesting as they are popular”. Make of that what you will!

The final four songs happen to contain three of the finest on the record. Distant Mountains, Singing is a brief reprise acting somewhat as a palate cleanser before you’re hit with the hat-trick of For the Lulls, Changes to Numbers Broken, and Tivoli. With it’s recurring vocal hook of “don’t hold on to me, I am an aeronaut”, as well as lines such as “For the lulls (LOLs?), I try to keep myself from decomposing”, For the Lulls is another inspired example of a song that sounds like sections from radically different tracks bolted together. Building steadily to a loud and raucous crescendo, it’s simply great. Changes to Numbers Broken opens with some sparse piano and handclaps, then builds into something majestic before dismantling itself and riding out on an instrumental coda of glock and synth. It’s very moving in its way and feels like the perfect end to the album. That is, until Tivoli takes you by surprise – again switching up the pace with a palm-muted acoustic guitar driving the song ever-forward. The refrain of “my mind is buried here with yours” again seems designed to embed itself in your grey matter. There’s a real knack for lines like this across the record, and this is certainly one of the most effective. Once more the band set the controls for ‘anthemic’ before things are abruptly brought to an end and you’re left wanting more.

TLDR: The Night The Night Fell is superb. It’s musically adventurous, it’s ambitious, it’s moving, and it’s a LOT of fun. It’s funny how some records stick with you – for example, I can’t even look at the cover of Radiohead’s The Bends without being transported back to walking to school, aged 17, in the snow, carrying my knock-off Discman. In a week where my wife and I received some pretty life-changing news, I have a feeling that this record will stay with me much in the same way. I’m so, so, so glad that it’s not rubbish. In fact, it’s a bit of a lo-fi indie art-rock masterpiece. Go give it a listen on Spotify, or Bandcamp, and have a listen to their back catalogue. But if you do, then be warned: Merry Christmas might just become your new favourite band.

You can find Merry Christmas on Instagram, Twitter, Bandcamp, and Facebook.

* This release was discovered via Musosoup. A small fee was paid in exchange for publication. See ‘About / Contact’ page for more details.

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