Reviewed by Johan Palme on 16th December, 2020
You can tell by the cover that Christmas by The Singers Unlimited is no ordinary Christmas album. Against a silver-gray background, no red jolliness in sight, stands a starkly lit, unnaturally-coloured fake Christmas tree in a shiny metal pot, covered in perfect plastic baubles. There’s a slickness to it, but it’s not slick in the way you’d expect a Christmas album to look, no peaceful family gatherings here, no soft-focus presents, frosty windows and gently gleaming fires. What you get, instead, is an overwhelming sense of artificiality.
There’s no staying within the limit of the real here. These are The Singers Unlimited, four people sounding like dozens of perfect replicates, uncanny valley walls of voice that often completely lose their grounding in what a real human vocal chord can produce. Far from the jovial interplay of a group like Swingle Singers, the complex harmonies and dissonances of Gene Puerlings repeatedly overdubbed arrangements strive for mathematical precision. Created by a group of advertising professionals (including bass Len Dressler, the voice of the Jolly Green Giant), the group had no intention at all of sounding live or raucous, clipping notes exactly, tightly rehearsing and editing together the perfect take, over and over again.
And you know what? I enjoy it. The machine-like elements create an unreal atmosphere of multitracked deindividuation, the voices becoming richly resonant instruments that interplay in fascinating ways. The harmonies, full of unusual lines and counterpoints, act as a great complement to those vast vocal fields. And the song selection is exquisite, including no less than seven of the legendary Alfred Burt carols in a wonderful sweep over most of side A. The robotic perfection exists in support of a highly conscious musicality, and somehow never get boring, bleak and chill like that wintry wind, but filled with ethereal beauty.