With the holiday season upon us, I was so pleased to encounter It’s Coming on Christmas, the new album from Danish a cappella group, Vocal Line. The project is artfully plotted into chronological order, starting before the Christmas holiday, arriving at the day, and then exploring the aftermath. This narrative thread not only lends cohesion to the album, but also offers a key gateway to understanding for listeners like myself who are in no way fluent in Danish.
The title of the album pulls from Joni Mitchell’s “River,” the third track covered on the album, and offers fair warning that this collection is not all whimsical or joyous, but rather leans into the kind of melancholy and introspection familiar to many during the holiday season. Moreover, that title reference also alludes to the beauty of the album to follow. Particularly in the classic holiday songs that will be familiar to a US audience, Vocal Line achieves lovely harmonies and pristine mechanics that result in a smooth, easy listening experience that allow the listener to become immersed in each track.
The first two songs of the album “Skyerne Grane” and “En Rose Sa Jeg Skyde” offer a sound entry point, particularly in conversation with each other. The former offers a rich sound, anchored in its bass, and feels as though it captures the sound of communal singing in the holiday season. While the latter song is also handled chorally, it’s much softer, spotlighting its high harmonies. In each case, these songs hint at the warm beginnings of the holidays. Aurally, the transition from them to “River” is quite fluid, but the stark tonal shift takes us to a colder, less celebratory place. Vocal Line’s soft, careful rendering of the “Jingle Bells” sample at the end of the track is particularly haunting.
For the Christmas day leg of the album, “Mit Hjerte Altid Venker” is particularly successful for the pounding bass that adds a sense of danger to the track on the mounting crescendo, while “Hjerte Loft Don Glaedes Vinger” demonstrates a certain measured professionalism that is especially lovely on the closing—the sopranos soaring while the lower parts come in right beneath them for a full finish. All of this functions in perfect contrast to “O Holy Night,” arranged with tremendous skill and restraint by Morten Kjaer, for a stripped-down presentation that not only showcases the incredible vocal talent at hand, but makes expert use of dynamics so the group really pops on its crescendos.
The final leg of the album casts a spotlight on Vocal Line’s soloists--in particular Katrine Gregersen Dal on “Det Er Hvidt Herude,” with her wonderfully chilling winter tone. The warm, celebratory staccato instrumentation on “Sneflokke Koller Vrimlende” delights as well.
All in all, It’s Coming On Christmas is a musically pristine collection that boldly melds traditional international holiday favorites more unique to the Danish and Nordic tradition. It’s certainly worth a listen for anyone looking for something different this holiday season, and in encountering some of Denmark’s finest vocals. Credit for production goes to Jens Johansen and Herik Birk Aaboe with Line Groth, with mixing by Corona Music, Thorso and mastering by Emil Thomsen at ET Mastering.
You can learn more about Vocal Line at their website.