THE LITTLE UNSAID – December Songs (Reveal Records Reveal 181CDX)

December SongsA few months ago The Little Unsaid’s John Elliott was exhorting us to Lick The Future’s Lips and, following a tour of that album, he returns with the seasonally appropriate December Songs. Unlike its predecessor, December Songs is a solo piece, with Elliott’s gifted multi-instrumentalism shaping each bittersweet reflection crafted in his flat during the locked-down winter of 2020. It might have risked being an album caught in time, but very little has really changed, and its themes feel fresh and relevant.

There’s an intimacy about this home-recording that derives from the circumstances of its making as much as the songs themselves. It’s a poignant album and often deeply moving, unflinchingly examining conflicting emotions and complex reactions to enforced constraints.

Opener ‘Ebb & Flow (Yuletide)’ with its themes of longing and absence will surely become an instant downbeat seasonal classic, “been rough, all told / we’ve got holes in our clothes”. As should its swaggering companion, ‘Fine World (When You Can Look It In The Eye)’, seizing life by the scruff of the neck whilst delivering the zinger “we can warm our hands round the burning year / feels good to set fire to so much lost time”. By contrast, ‘Hermit’s Carol’ feels like a plea to only wake up when it’s all over.

‘Sacred Space’ explores various moods of enforced lockdown intimacy and exile from the world outside, “the sensation of this life in us / has been our sacred space”. But the darker emotional toll (separated by ‘Home Video’ – a montage of distant voices to a tenderly wistful piano) is nakedly exposed as ‘December Sun’ peers into the abyss before turning away.

‘Family Tree’ pits the search for certainty in our historic roots against the ultimate unknowability of the past, and heralds a pair of winter standards. A spacious multitextured electronic ambience transforms ‘In Dulce Jubilo’, but Rosetti’s ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is kept restrained, accompanied simply by acoustic guitar, and followed by ‘5am Waltz’, a reflective piano and glockenspiel piece.

Ending the album on a vibrant note, ‘Bodhi Tree’ features a shimmering mandolin and multi-track vocal building to a celebration of human spirit and being alive. It’s a flaming toast to life, to optimism and a captivating finish to an album fully deserving of its place as a stone-cold winter classic.

Su O’Brien

Artist website:

‘Ebb & Flow (Yuletide) – official lyric video:

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