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Music to change years by


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From Merle’s “If We Make It Through December” to Buckley’s “New Year’s Prayer,” music can capture the poignance and promise of new beginnings.
  • From Merle’s “If We Make It Through December” to Buckley’s “New Year’s Prayer,” music can capture the poignance and promise of new beginnings.
As we creep closer to the closing of another year, there are many ways — and reasons — to celebrate 2017’s last gasps. And what better way to celebrate than with a New Year’s playlist that captures all the magic and misery of this special season?

While the holidays have sundry songs and carols that are inextricably linked to the season itself, New Year’s is most often associated with just one song: the setting of the Scottish poem “Auld Lang Syne.” Do any normal people actually sing it on New Year’s Eve or know all the words, however? No, of course not.

But if you do have a hankering to listen to it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one particular performance of the tune, dating back to when Denver’s own Slim Cessna’s Auto Club rang in 2012. Special guest Erica Brown led the crowd in a rousing rendition that showcased her powerhouse gospel/blues chops, while the band’s other guest for the evening, Jello Biafra, sort of conducted with his microphone, clearly not knowing the words. You heard it here first, folks: Jello Biafra is normal.

Incidentally, the Auto Club will be performing their annual New Year’s celebration with three shows at Globe Hall this year, Dec. 29-31, marking the band’s 25th anniversary.

The transition of the years has traditionally been marked with optimism and expectation, the clean slate of a new cycle. Of course, the past few years have seen an anxiety-ridden underpinning slip ever-closer to the forefront of the public consciousness, so one could be forgiven for approaching the new year with some amount of trepidation.

A perennial anthem of self-reliance and determination is found in the Mountain Goats’ “This Year,” a track from their often-harrowing 2005 record The Sunset Tree. The album focuses on frontman John Darnielle’s adolescence and his abusive stepfather, and “This Year” functions as a blast of cold sunshine; certainly not with a rosy view of the proceedings, but a stubborn rallying cry with its central hook, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Merle Haggard’s 1973 single “If We Make It Through December,” which later appeared on the album of the same title. The track mixes the melancholy of working-class economic hardship with desperate optimism and highlights Haggard’s intense, though often-overlooked, strain of empathy which runs through his catalogue.
An ocean of ink has already been spilled about what a tragedy the loss of singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley was, as the immensely talented musician only left behind one official full-length album, 1994’s Grace. Since then, there has been an excess of “official bootleg” material released in an attempt to fill the vacuum of studio material Buckley left behind, with some of it feeling a bit exploitive.

One highlight, however, is Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, a collection of demos for what would have been Buckley’s second studio LP. It is here we find the mesmerizing “New Year’s Prayer,” a somewhat abstract, drone-heavy piece where Buckley spectrally intones, “Fall in love / Feel no shame for what you are.” Probably good advice, right?

The song actually appears on the release twice, one mix courtesy of Andy Wallace, and a more stark version mixed by Television’s Tom Verlaine.

Finally, my personal favorite record of the year, Ulver’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar, may have some advice for us as we march into the future. Ulver, a Norwegian band with a fluctuating lineup, began as a black metal outfit during Norway’s second wave of the genre in the early 1990s, but they quickly distinguished themselves from their peers with their sonic adventurousness and lyrical sophistication.

The year 2017 found the band releasing a “pop” album, though for all its pulsing synthesizers and slick production, I doubt you’d confuse it with Taylor Swift.

On the opening track “Nemoralia,” lead singer Kristoffer Rygg uses his sonorous voice to explore seemingly unconnected threads of history, including the paparazzi-swarmed death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the plight of Diana, Roman goddess of the moon and hunting.

By the time Rygg sings, “I want to tell you something about the grace of faded things,” listeners will likely be intoxicated by the dizzying, dysphoric, era-jumping historical circle that Ulver has conjured. Happy New Year, indeed.

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