Warning. Melancholy.

Christmas carols are dangerous. Be warned.

You might set out in good faith to listen to a rousing melody that stirs the heart, but if you’ve not selected your running order carefully you will, I promise you, end up feeling irretrievably morose.

That’s what carols are designed to do. That’s why we need descants. Carols are a heady, life-threatening mix of melancholy and celebration. A bittersweet musical expression of all the pain and the joy we experience as individuals.

Approach with caution. We have a collective responsibility to be vigilant. We mustn’t settle for the familiar. Seek out that which subverts expectations.

My festive musical discovery this year is Voces 8 Christmas album from 2011.

It’s partly a collection of some of those familiar melodies, but treated to a bit of a harmonic revamp. Each carol remain rooted in the choral tradition which helped those melodies embed themselves in our collective consciousness, but various present-day composers have been given free-rein to add their own harmonic stamp.

Thomas Hewitt-Jones’s jaw-dropping exploration in the final verse of Once in Royal David’s City (a more three-dimensional harmonic experience compared to David Willcocks’ descant), then indulge in Jim Clements’s gradual unravelling of Away in a Manger.

And there’s an additional pleasing thing to mention about this album. It’s on Signum Records, who just last week celebrated reaching two million streams of its content. Not a bad achievement for an independent label whose owner turns up at the concerts for the groups he’s produced to sell CDs. Yay. Signum.

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