The Winter Art of Christmas Music: A humble review of Sleeping At Last’s “Christmas Collection Vol.1”

By: Hannah Bonanducci

Having made it past the time when November Christmas haters and debates about the acceptability of playing Christmas music run rampant, I feel as though it is now safe for me to share a hidden joy I have for some Christmas music.

Now, before you stop reading, I’m not about to review the usual radio hits. While I can certainly enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit with classics like “All I Want for Christmas” and “Last Christmas,” my hidden love sits with Christmas remakes by my favorite bands. Up until a week ago, I would have given a shining review of KING & COUNTRY’s “Drummer Boy Christmas” album (which still remains a FANTASTIC favorite of mine that you should listen to), but I’ve recently found another album that seems more fitting for this article.

If you’re not familiar with the band Sleeping At Last, I instantly recommend getting into all of their music. You may recognize hits such as “Saturn,” “Turning Page” and the recent TikTok sensation “Touch.” The band, which now only consists of singer-songwriter/composer Ryan O’Neal, is an alternative/indie band that is described as a “music project” that O’Neal uses to share the mystery and beauty of nature and God’s creation. His projects capturing the beautiful moments of space, humanity, sensations and life are all pieces of incredibly intentional art that accurately capture that beauty.

With that in mind, you can imagine my joy when I discovered that a Christmas album had been released last year. Music has always been a beautiful way that I experience the joys of Christmas, and to see that my favorite band that shares my passion for capturing beauty in music made a musical experience related to Christmas is still too much to wrap my head around. So now, possibly unfortunately for you, you’re going to hear my indie-loving plea to listen to this album.

The album, like most of the band’s albums, features a beautiful array of instruments, vocals and a perfect blend of quiet moments and overwhelming crescendos. The first song, “The First Noel,” immediately starts off the album with an intimate acapella opening that slowly builds with soft background vocals and breathtaking violin buildup. His thoughtful re-imaginings of classics like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” do wonders with simple piano, violin and even ukulele background instrumentation. 

One thing I love about the album is the way O’Neal captures the feeling of each song, even while he completely reimagines the sound with each rendition. “The Christmas Song” still holds that wonderful intimate and tender feeling with a ukulele leading the instrumentation of the whole song. That same soft ukulele does wonders for the bittersweet and longing rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which still takes my breath away with each listen. Furthermore, the more upbeat classics like “Silver Bells” and “White Christmas” still hold their happier sound, although O’Neal perfectly balances that feeling while also wrapping it in a tender nostalgic feel that can get anyone thinking of home.

My personal favorite from the album is the rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which holds a high standard in songs that immediately bring me joy. The song starts off with a few violins singing a happy tune that holds the song without any other instrumental additions and could honestly still be wonderful without the lyrics. O’Neal’s singing, though, only adds to the sweet and joyful tune. If you’ve seen me walking around campus recently with my headphones on, just know that I was probably listening to that song.

Overall, the album beautifully captures the beauty associated with the warmer and tender sides of Christmas, which is a feeling that I haven’t seen expressed so accurately in music otherwise. Even if you’re not an indie fan or a big Christmas lover, the album is certainly worth a listen-through, even if it’s just in the background while you go about your day. Who knows, maybe you’ll be smiling along to that nostalgic Christmas feeling yourself.

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