THE DELINES – Christmas In Atlantis / San Leandro Lament

The Delines’ 2022 album ‘The Sea Drift’ was a little smoother than their previous recordings, but in many ways, the record’s soulful Americana sound created some of the band’s richest sounds to date. Its timeless sound also translated perfectly to the stage – perhaps, in some ways, a little too perfectly – but it definitely showed off a band at the peak of their powers.

This Christmas offering shares just as much Delines musical gold. As if to counter the idea that a festive track could be a little throwaway, ‘Christmas In Atlantis’ is as far removed from traditional Xmas fare as you’re likely to find. The music quickly finds its feet via a smooth soul inflected groove where a lead bass and electric piano take the lead as if channelling a mid 70s Stax Records banger, and when augmented by a soft, muted trumpet, it could sit very naturally alongside the previous album’s strongest cuts. As the melody gains momentum, there’s something about its retro feel that could even feel like a distant cousin to a couple of tunes from Saint Etienne’s ‘Home Counties’ LP, in that there’s actually a kitschy quality to the way the melody ambles so effortlessly. It never aims to be cool, and that is one of its greatest strengths. Then, there’s the lyrical content and the vocal style to consider: during the bulk of the five minutes, Amy Boone eschews anything close to a traditional singing style; nor does she choose to lean upon any easy, picturesque imagery. Instead, she recounts a fairly grim Christmas gathering in a lax, spoken style that harks back to Robbie Robertson’s ‘Somewhere Down The Crazy River’, introducing us to a racist uncle with bad tattoos, a nephew who refuses to leave the basement all day, a niece who’s raking in the dollars by posting naked selfies on the internet, and a couple of siblings who end up punching seven bells out of each other. Merry Christmas, indeed. Closing with a few bars of actual singing, celebrating a much bigger melody, it almost ends on an upbeat note, but there’s still a strange feeling of unease that never really suggests festive fare. This is brilliant. For the downbeat, the disillusioned, even the Grinch-like, ‘Christmas In Atlantis’ explores a gallery of horrors that creates some very vivid imagery, and The Delines’ musical chops have rarely sounded better.

On the flip, the minimalist ‘San Leandro Lament’ shares a sparse piano melody that – likely due to its proximity to ‘Christmas In Atlantis’ – feels decidedly wintry. There’s something about the ambling tune that suggests the soundtrack to snowfall, and the brass accompaniment conjures a vague feeling of carol singers and more traditional Christmas tunes, despite never rising beyond a mournful melody. It’s a great example of how music has the power to transport the listener from the everyday, and even though it’s unlikely to be anyone’s favourite Delines tune, it captures their laid back style well.

Both tracks on this release are great, but ‘…Atlantis’, in particular, could well be the ultimate Christmas hit for those who have never felt any real connection with Nat King Cole warming his chestnuts, or the forced jollity of seasonal outings like ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ by Shakin’ Stevens. The Delines should be applauded for sharing the kind of non traditional Christmas fare that works well beyond a limited “pull it out every December” shelf-life… Naturally, it would’ve been great to have more than just the two new songs here, but when it comes to sharing more of the band’s classic sound, these recordings shouldn’t leave fans feeling short changed.

December 2023