Review of December Album by Scala And Kolacny Brothers

Amidst a wealth of upbeat, cheesy Christmas songs that plague the ears of the nation throughout December (earlier and earlier every year), with this second UK album release Scala & Kolacny Brothers present a darker and more sombre musical take on the last month of the year. 

Scala And Kolacny Brothers December Album

Scala & Kolacny Brothers' distinction is powerful; goose bump-inducing re-workings of familiar rock and indie tracks, some of which will be familiar from their recent use for television trailers for the likes of Downton Abbey and Homeland. The follow up to the Belgian all-female choir's self-titled debut opens with their version of Linkin Park's 'My December' which, in haunting beauty and with minimal accompaniment, continues with their familiar ground and sets the scene for much of the album that follows. Instantly obvious too is Steven and Stijn Kolacny's continued confidence to delve straight in with a reworking of tracks that are contrasting to what would ordinarily perhaps be expected from a delicately voiced 30-40 strong all female choir, ably tackling the likes of Linkin Park, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, just as they did with Metallica and Nirvana on the debut album.  

Through their opening four tracks, Scala & Kolacny Brothers sound stripped back, piano accompanied versions of December/Christmas-related tracks; their reworking of Coldplay's 'Christmas Lights' for example, starts quite low and quiet and builds through layers of stunning yet quite close, precise harmony, just as the track before and the track after, and by this point there is already a feeling of repetition with their same-y arrangements. Later, '2000 Miles' (The Pretenders) removes all the rawness and emotion of the original and replaces it with delicacy and precision and, even though the choral arrangement builds, there's a still flatness that just can't be avoided. With 'Christmas Must Be Tonight' (The Band), however, and again later with 'It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad' (Sufjan Stevens), the Kolacny Brothers attempt to change this, introducing a male vocal solo backed with guitars, drums and bass to contrast the piano-accompanied all female choir. The male-led tracks are kind of torn between a welcome interruption and something that's out of place; like the Kolacny Brothers' divulging their inner indie band urge and nodding to influences as if the reworking of their influences' tracks wasn't enough of a nod. The Sufjan Stevens track is also quite sluggish and tinged with a little melancholy in its harmony and tonality reminiscent of 'No Surprises', so only offers variety in terms of arrangement rather than pace and feel. 

One of the two Kolacny originals on December, 'Tears Can Sparkle Too', penned by Steven Kolacny, is one of the more expressive and moving of the choir led tracks on the album. Opening with a picked guitar accompaniment to the choir, the track then builds with more of an instrumental backing; synthesised strings, well-tuned cymbal rolls and all. The other original, 'Sun-Kissed Snow', however, returns to the original calm with a 6/8 piano-accompanied ballad, though it does eventually crescendo with dubious electronic beats. 

Towards the album's close, 'When Doves Cry' (Prince) continues in melancholy, hauntingly so, sombre and, as with much of the offering, sounds the darker side of December/Christmas in contrast to the upbeat-ness of many Christmas tracks. The album then concludes with a reworking of Damien Rice's 'Eskimo', starting rather weakly with solo male vocal and dubious percussion, and then joined, predictably, by the gentle tones of the choir. The closing choruses and climactic moments of the track, however, really make up for its' weak beginnings; with instrumental backings and powerful chorus vocals, Scala & Kolacny Brothers finally hit the spot that they've merely brushed over through most of the album. 

While December doesn't quite have the wow-factor of their debut offering, it does have its moments; one just wishes that Scala & Kolacny Brothers might use their haunting beauty and talent to uplift rather than ooze the reflection of melancholy December.

Hannah Spencer

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