Salvation Is Created
By Ryan Hamm
December 1, 2009
Christmas music is some of my favorite music.
There. I said it.
are surprised to hear this from me. Maybe because my tastes tend to
veer more toward the indie (read: the latest band from Brooklyn),
hip-hop and, well ... sort of the anti-kitsch. I don't have much time
for manufactured feeling, and I'll be the first to hop on a bandwagon
and make fun of someone for liking a band we all got over in high
school (we're all over Goo Goo Dolls now, right? OK, good).
for some reason ... when it comes to Christmas music, there's just not
much I can make fun of. My friends berate me for accepting carefully
constructed nostalgia, but I eat it up. A new Frank Sinatra Christmas
album? Yes, please. What's that? A deluxe edition of the Charlie Brown Christmas
soundtrack? Put it on the Christmas list. Starbucks' latest compilation
of Christmas tunes, some of which I already have? Add it to my order,
I think the reason I enjoy this particular season's
music so much is because it's essentially a microcosm of the reason I
enjoy the season itself. Christmas is one of those rare times when the
deeply spiritual and the absurdly kitschy take a place beside one
another ... and neither leaves the worse for wear. The sacred and
secular lie down with the lion and the lamb, and an average Christmas
mix can contain everything from "Silent Night" to the weirdly creepy
"Baby, It's Cold Outside."
And I love a good secular Christmas
tune, particularly if it's jazzy and/or one of the members of the Rat
Pack is involved. But ...
When I look into the wintry darkness
of Christmas (what Over the Rhine rightly referred to as "the darkest
night of the year"), in my innermost being, I want to be reminded why
all of this exists in the first place. When I feel most filled with
"holiday spirit," it's when I'm driving by myself across the plains
states, with Sufjan or Rosie Thomas singing Yuletide favorites on my
stereo. Or when I'm talking with a friend on a cold winter night while
Over the Rhine plays in the background. Something that reminds me
Christ came and it's just as mysterious as you'd think God being born
as a baby would be.
It's this kind of Christmas music you'll find on Salvation Is Created: A Christmas Record by Bifrost Arts.
Bifrost Arts is a name given to the production team of Isaac Wardell
and Mason Neely. They released the incredible compilation of hymns and
spiritual songs called Come, O Spirit!, which featured
people like the Welcome Wagon, Rosie Thomas, David Bazan, Damien Jurado
and a member of Fleet Foxes. Bifrost Arts has released both albums on
Great Comfort Records, a label started by members of the fabled
Salvation Is Created is a worship
album in the guise of a Christmas album. It's filled with ramshackle
sounds, creaking instruments, and a collective strain of vocals
striving to honor God and the little baby He sent to Bethlehem. There
isn't as much star power on this album as on the previous release; the
biggest name here is Derek Webb. But the album certainly doesn't suffer
for that fact. Each artist is clearly giving it their all. The album is
beautifully lush and orchestrated with appropriate drone, swells of
orchestral strings, stirring piano and, of course, passionate vocals.
probably won't have heard many of these songs—I hadn't. There's the
normal "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," but there are
also standouts like "Joy Joy!!!" (featuring Devon Sproule and Paul
Curreri) that builds upon a circular melody of clarinet, piano and a
foreboding woodwinds section. Ben + Vesper (former collaborators with
Sufjan Stevens) offer a lilting melodic take on "Bring a Torch
Jeanette, Isabella." And the final song, "Salvation is Created" (feat.
Aimee Wilson), is an epic track of worship that wouldn't be out of place
on a Sigur Ros album.
And, actually, worship is a good way to
describe this album. It's easy to picture the participants gathered
around a rickety piano somewhere and singing their hearts out to God,
celebrating His Incarnation. Elin K. Smith's rendition of "Let All
Mortal Flesh" is quiet and contemplative, inviting us to worship God in
Communion, reminding us how He came to earth. "Veiled in Darkness" (yet
another song with the melody of "Greensleeves") puts the mystery of the
birth of Christ at the forefront.
Salvation Is Created
is one of the most beautiful Christmas albums you could buy this
season. It doesn't manufacture nostalgia or (something much, much more
insidious) manufacture a fleeting feeling of "worship." Instead, it
feels organic and authentic—a true expression of people expressing
wonder and gratitude at the reality—and yes, the mystery—of Christ's