Christmas at brand new lifestyle center
by: Looking Through Sheets
Written By: Gbanas92
Published: December 24th, 2021
Once upon a time, many years ago, back before COVID was a thing, Christmastime at a mall was a big deal. The bustling hives of frantic shoppers and fitful children would pack in for the holidays, and the malls themselves made sure to up their game. Decorations would appear seemingly overnight; giant ornaments, tassels, trees, and of course a (paid) photo opportunity with Santa Claus himself. All that’s well and good, but it doesn’t convey the coziness that a mall used to have around Christmas. Whether it’s the promise of shelter from the biting cold outside, the general cheer of the holiday season or the relentless, inescapable sound of Christmas music piped throughout the mall, these vaunted shopping Mecca’s just feel different at year’s end. But we’re here to focus on the music. Specifically, the latest album from mallsoft maestro Looking Through Sheets.
It can be hard to hear amid the hustle and bustle of a filled-to-capacity shopping mall, so it’s great that Christmas at the Brand New Lifestyle Center gets that. Sure you’ll hear some classic tunes on occasion, sometimes even with disarming clarity, but more often than not, recognizable tunes will weave in and out of your consciousness, never quite feeling alien, but not quite familiar either. This is all beautifully conveyed through the opener, “Christmas at the Brand New Lifestyle Center.” A massive 15 minute journey, the track packs the aforementioned instant recognition, but isn’t afraid to scramble the signal up a bit. It helps to keep you a little off-kilter as you barge through the doors of the retail palace. Sure, that might sound like “Silver Bells” for a split-second, but just as quickly it’s gone, fading into a cold repeating loop devoid of warmth. Where’s the characteristic warmth of a regular mall? Maybe it’s in one of the other wings.
“Spengler’s Things” could well be an indicator that a classic Christmas shopping experience is going to be hard to find. A reverberant, haunting vocal distortion drives the track, and things feel more like Halloween than Christmas on this one. It’s decidedly unnerving. But what’s this? Where is that piano music coming from? A warm glow seems to be emanating from somewhere, and sure enough, “That Christmas Mood” (a collab with Swanson Teavee) at long last brings that Christmas spirit roaring in. There’s more crowd chatter in the background on this track, and the mall just feels more full of life in these parts. You must have started in the abandoned wing, is all. The warmth carries over into “Same Time Next Year”, another peaceful track that seemingly carries you right into the heart of the mall. Eager shoppers bustle and shout across the halls, interrupting your chance to hear the music once in a while. It’s starting to feel like there never even was a pandemic after all. “Bon Marche” seems to agree, as this track comes the closest to a traditional mallsoft track. Slowed samples, reverbed drums you’ve definitely heard before — all that good stuff. It provides a comforting sense of familiarity amidst the storm of all these foreign sounds, and allows the track to feel a lot more unique than it might if it weren’t on a holiday album.
You just might have gotten too comfortable though, as “Carpenter Way” almost entirely strips away music. It’s there, but very faintly, and the track is primarily instead motivated by a solitary set of footsteps and the sound of an elevator. Dropping off some shopping in the car? Or just going home altogether? It’s hard to say with “Lark Bells Carol” (a collab with Ghost Fliers). The track is absolutely beautiful, a stunning, melancholic rendition of (unsurprisingly) “The Carol of the Bells” that doesn’t really sound like it takes place at a mall. You’re definitely still around people, but it doesn’t have the same mall-like quality to it. A restaurant to grab a bite? An airport? Where are you going? Given the further progression into the dark on “1961” it sure seems like the fun times at the mall have come to an end. Distortion comes back here as well, perhaps as you reminisce about a particularly good holiday from years past? Do you enjoy going to the mall so much that when you’re done, it makes you incredibly glum? If the closing track, “Humbug”, is any indicator the answer is yes. One final piece filled with melancholy for the road, then. One very simple but very sad melody loops for a couple of minutes, before the album gracefully bows out.
While these concluding tracks make for great listening, they aren’t necessarily festive. The back half of the album might be better saved for after the holiday season concludes. As the New Year comes around, you might find yourself thinking about how sad it is that the holiday season built up for so long, only to be gone in a flash. And that is when you want to put the back half of this album on. Soak up the melancholy of the album alongside your own feelings rather than bring things down while there remains so much to be happy about!