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Eternal Christmas Love: Factory Star’s “Lucybel”

Factory Star/Granite Shore
"Lucybel" b/w "When Sleep Won't Come"
Occultation Recordings

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An unabashed love song wrapped thematically in warm holiday garb, Factory Star’s new single, “Lucybel” (B-sided by labelmate Granite Shore’s take on ‘When Sleep Won’t Come,” from the FS album Enter Castle Perilous) is a lovely, loping addition to any- and everyone’s Christmas morning playlist, slotted somewhere between, say, “Fairytale of New York” and Bowie and Bing’s “Little Drummer Boy.”

Opening with a chord-strummed acoustic that, throughout, essays a simple progression – all the best Christmas songs have simple progressions – the song rides a clear, snowy organ figure that gives one the rather unmistakable impression of being pulled through a December landscape on a crisp, gelid winter’s night, an impression helped in no small part by the jingly tambourine that chimes in at the first chorus and stays for the rest of the ride. Rhythmically, as well, it’s jouncing and gently insistent, welcoming all to come aboard with a head-nodding irresistible swing. Which isn’t even to mention the mandolin that comes dancing along on its pretty little staccato feet to carry us merrily away across the song’s final few stanzas, sealing the feel of the thing with the timelessness of a madrigal.

Whether or not there’s a better time of the year to be in love than Christmas (there isn’t), singer/guitarist Martin Bramah, restrained and intimate of voice, makes it as clear as, well, a sleigh bell that he, or at least the character singing, most certainly is. Little, after all, could more glorify the object of one’s love than comparing her to the most renowned star in Western Civilization, then surpassing even that in the end by declaring that, indeed, “none shine as bright as you.” “Lucybel,” the single, pulls off that always tricky holiday sleight-of-hand, hitching a sonnet-like expression of earthly love to the gloria in excelcis deo of the season’s most vaunted texts, with many of the signal references – stars, bells, no room at the inn, being bound away to the cope of heaven – all tidily in place.

factory star

But really, when it comes down to it, the true test of a Christmas single is how catchy it is. A truly great one must have the same insinuative ability to stick in your head as a commercial jingle – if you’ll pardon the pun – and “Lucybel” delivers in classic Yuletide fashion. It is, in fact, damn near addictive. Buy this, give it a spin or two and you just watch, in those countdown days to Christmas, while you’re window-shopping and bustling about, be it on Main St or the High St, it will be “Lucybel” that keeps singing itself in your head as you’re mulling over cardigans for Uncle Bill.

And, as a bonus, the song’s coupled with a B-side that’s anything but throwaway. Granite Shore’s take on “When Sleep Won’t Come” is, impressively, even more haunting than the original. With a minimalist, delicate arrangement, it lulls with authority, Nick Halliwell’s mesmerizing vocal offering itself with a near-narcotic lure, bringing a kind of eerie confidentiality to Bramah’s dreamscape lyrics. The instrumentation, particularly as it stretches out during the break near the end, proceeds with a spare, slow-motion grandeur, like an epic, sad-but-hopeful movie score heard through a lover’s window.  Especially effective here are the vibes creeping into the mix for just long enough – ten seconds or so – to introduce the strings, themselves only present for the time it takes to convince you that you’re floating through a cinematic lullaby. Tender and stirring, it’s an ideal flipside to the singalong infectiousness of “Lucybel.”

We all have favorite Christmas singles to help shepherd us through the rigors and stress of the season, and by now there exists a bulging catalog of indie choices that rivals – if not always too spectacularly – the more traditional carols and chorales of yore (check St Google and ye shall see. Everyone from Sufjan to Wolf Parade, Saosin to Comet Gain) What many of those lack, however, is the seemingly simple wherewithal to go ahead and sound like an honest-to-god Christmas song, the kind that families could conceivably stand around the piano singing in all our Rockwellian imaginations. Instead, they too often trade, gleefully, in novelty, wink-wink irony, flat-out sentimentality, or, yes, any combination thereof. “Lucybel,” with its comfort-and-joy singability and pitch-perfect production, not only avoids such pitfalls but does so with an assurance that gives it the kiss of a Christmas classic.

Essential. Buy it.