Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I guess I'll give you one last pre-Christmas post here...
So, you heard all the stuff that I was spouting about Christmas being a sign of right-wing hypocrisy thanks to its pagan aspects. But maybe you wonder how I feel about celebrating it myself.
Well, I don't know. I'm sort of ambivalent about it. The courts have allowed it to be a federal holiday thanks to the secular Santa Claus aspect of the holiday, and I guess that makes sense. Non-Christians do celebrate it without the religious aspects of Christmas.
Really, I'm just not sure if I want to get rid of Christmas because it would make obsolete all the great Christmas songs I've been playing for the past couple of weeks. I don't want the Kindercore Christmas comps to be obsolete!
I just want the right-wing Christians to admit that they get Christmas off thanks to Santa Claus, not Jesus. Sorry guys, it's not a foothold for the establishment of religion in government.
I don't know what else to say about that. I don't know if I won't to discuss it any further at the moment.
The real reason I'm making this post is because I just wrote a couple Christmas record reviews, but Mundane Sounds doesn't seem to be updating, so I'm going to post them both there. First, I'm posting a review of the Seasons Greetings from Pas/Cal & Asobi Seksu 12", and right after that will be a review of Cwistmas Twee.
So... here are the reviews. Merry Christmas everyone! And a Happy Krimble.
Season's Greetings from Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu
For the first release on Pas/Cal's new Romantic Air label, Pas/Cal and Asobi
Seksu have each contributed a Christmas cover song for this 12". Detroit indie
popsters Pas/Cal covered the mega-kitschy "Last Christmas" by Wham, and New
York shoegaze pop band Asobi Seksu covered the great Ramones classic, "Merry
Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)".
I'll address "Last Christmas" first. I have a little history with this song.
The first version of the song that I heard was by the female-fronted indiepop
band, Sarge. For those who don't know the song, its main lyrical sentiment
goes like this: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you
gave it away. This year, I'm giving it to someone else." I'm not a huge fan of
Sarge, but I loved that cover. They did a great rendition, driven by slow,
heavily distorted guitar stabs and sweet, melodic vocals sung with an amazing
amount of passion. It seemed like they took the words seriously.
Oh yeah, I should mention that when I first heard Sarge's version, I thought
it was an original.
I don't know if you can imagine the disappointment and embarrassment that I
felt a little while later when I heard the original version by Wham come on the
radio. "You mean this song is actually a kitschy piece of '80s dance pop
shit?!" Needless to say, I felt very ritually unclean and bereft of indie cred
But really, it wasn't the song itself that was the problem, it was the people
who sung it. In the hands of Wham, it sounded like another heartless piece of
mass-produced pop tripe, delivered as casually as yet another one of your
aunt's Christmas fruitcakes. In the hands of Sarge, it sounded like a sugary
sweet, yet surprisingly sincere expression of heartbreak. An ironic cover that
didn't sound ironic at all.
So, what does it sound like in the hands of Pas/Cal?
Simply put, it sounds like fun. If you have some sort of Christmas-themed
indie DJ dance night, this is the version you're going to want to play. Pas/Cal's
version is done in a very upbeat '60s-influenced indiepop style, neither
taking the lyrics too seriously, nor singing them lackadaisically. When you hear
the cover, it's apparent that they put much effort into making it. It's
actually over 6 minutes long, but it's hardly repetitive. Lots of tempo and dynamic
changes abound, there are some rocking guitar solos, and they subtly and deftly
add and change instruments and riffs as the song progresses. Clearly, Pas/Cal
put more effort into arranging this cover than Wham put into writing,
arranging, and recording the original.
"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" is another story. Written
and performed by one of the most important, credible bands of all time, it
obviously has an agreeable pedigree. The song is a sentimental, yet realist plea
begging a significant other for a daylong cessation of relational discord. The
Ramones seemed to have been resolved to the idea that conflicts in
relationships are sometimes unavoidable... but damn it, it's Christmas, we love each
other (or I at least assume so), and Christmas is supposed to be a happy time.
For this cover, Asobi Seksu was wise enough not to mess with perfection, and
ladies and gentlemen, if you don't think "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to
Fight Tonight)" is is perfection, you simply have horrible music taste. I simply
refuse to accept the idea of relativist musical taste in this case. Anyway,
Asobi Seksu, knowing that significant modification of this song would be both
pretentious and unnecessary, play the cover almost completely straight and true
to the original. They play it with the same tempo and song structure. However,
they do manage to make it unique by playing the guitar part with the standard
distortion- and reverb-drenched shoegaze guitar, which adds an interesting
twist. And the other good twist is that, in case you didn't know, Asobi Seksu
has a female lead singer. Fans of female indiepop vocals know that having a
woman sing a song originally sung by a man can make that song sound better (or
maybe not better, just equally great in its own right). I dare say that I think
this version sounds cute, but I don't know if I should say that because
shoegaze isn't supposed to be cute. Then again, Asobi Seksu isn't your normal
And before ending this review, I should mention the cover art. It's
definitely not your normal cover art. As you can see, it features clay models of all
the members of Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu, minature replicas of their instruments,
and a gingerbread house. It's just really cute, and it's a great incentive to
buy the album.
Oh, and now that I think of it, since Asobi Seksu allowed clay models of
themselves to appear in a snowy Christmas landscape in front of a gingerbread
house on the cover of this record, one could probably assume that they're just
asking to be referred to as "cute".
Artist website: http://www.pascalgoespop.com
Artist website: http://www.asobiseksu.com
Label website: http://www.romanticair.com
There's a little blurb from Don Shumai in the liner notes where he mentions
hating the word "twee". I just want to make it known that unlike other people,
I actually love the word "twee" and mention my affiliation with it as much as
possible. To be honest, there was a time when I thought that "twee" was a
moronic-sounding word. But then I changed my mind.
What made me change my mind, you might wonder? I realized that when you say
"twee" with a high-pitched voice and extend the syllable (like saying
"wheeeeee!" when you go down a slide), it sounds really cute. Tweeeeeee!
Now, do you understand why "twee" is such an appropriate moniker for
hypercute pop music?
So, unlike other people, my only objection to the title is that pronouncing
it makes you sound like Elmer Fudd. People act funny when you start talking
like Elmer Fudd for no apparent reason, so I like to avoid that.
Damn you, Mr. Shumai! I reject your ironic mockery of my beloved subgenre!
Anyway, Cwistmas Twee is exactly (or almost exactly for reasons we'll get
into later) what the title implies. It's Kindercore Christmas Volume 3. Big,
important names from the newest school of tweepop bring you eleven delicious
(actually, ten... for reasons we'll get into later) cups of holiday cheer.
Actually, the name Cwistmas Twee is somewhat inaccurate because some of the
tracks on here are about winter, and there's also one Hanukkah song. Still, the
comparison to the Kindercore Christmas CDs is apt because the songs on the
Kindercore CDs weren't all about Christmas, either.
Since this is a special CD, I think it calls for a track-by-track review.
1. Colin Clary "Meow Meow"
Colin Clary, aka "The Prolific Smitten", starts off the CD with this
Christmas song dedicated to all the kitties out there. "I wish you love and lots of
tuna juice." There's also a little bit of a theme of tolerance for other
religions ("And if you don't believe in Christmas, that's okay. I still respect your
holiday."), as the time around the winter solstice is a time of celebration
for various faiths. A very cute start to the album.
2. The Icicles "Snowman Song"
I was disappointed with this one because the Icicles are one of my favorite
bands on this CD, and this song is previously released. I was hoping for a new
song by them to directly address Christmas. Anyway, if you're cool, you
already have this on MP3. If you're really cool, you bought their new CD, which
features this song.
For those who don't have this song, it's an upbeat song with a female
vocalist reflecting on the happiness she felt playing in the snow with her
significant other. The glockenspiel line on this one is really catchy.
3. Spoilsport "Snowball"
An '80s college rock-influenced (I mean that they sound kind of like the
Replacements) song in which the singer implores a significant other to go out into
the snow hand in hand with him instead of staying inside. I like this better
than anything by the 'Mats because it has great female backing vocals.
4. The Specific Heats "Winter Fashions"
A catchy '60s-style pop song with some great organ. Like the title says, this
song glorifies sweaters, earmuffs, and other pieces of winter clothing. This
song makes the controversial assertion that "Girls look cuter in winter
clothes." I'm not sure if I agree, but it's an interesting statement to make
This song is probably in a Gap or Old Navy commercial in an alternate
5. The Lil' Hospital "Dear Scrooge"
A nice low key acoustic/electric hybrid with great use of melodica. The
lyrics to this song are in the form of a letter to Scrooge begging him for an early
paycheck because the money is needed for rent and Christmas.
6. Shumai "California Christmas"
I don't know why Don Shumai is making fun of tweeness in the liner notes
because this is a cute boy-girl pop song. As you might infer from the title, the
song is about going to California for Christmas in order to escape the snow.
I just don't know what's with your posturing, Mr. Shumai. This song is quite
twee, and I think I'm going to find you and hug you someday just out of spite.
7. The Smittens "Good Migrations"
Another previously-released track, and the sole Hanukkah song on here. I was
hoping that they'd try their hand at a Christmas song. Anyway, if you're cool,
you already have this on MP3. If you're super-duper, ultra-indie hipster
cool, you already have this on 7". This was supposed to be on the sequel to I Made
It Out of Clay, the excellent indiepop Hanukkah compilation that Little
Shirley Beans released a few years ago. No, I have no idea if that's still coming
Anyway, this song is extra cute. Yes, extra cute. It's about moving to a
warmer climate to avoid a snowy, cold Hanukkah, because "When you feel the sun on
your skin and a warm breeze through your hair, you'll never want to let the
light go out." The female backing vocals during the parts where they list
possible sites of relocation (Cape Town, Santiago, Auckland, etc.) are just precious.
8. The Sheets "The Fruit of the Spirit of Christmas"
Acoustic pop backed with electronic drum tracks. This is a very sentimental
song about the warmth of Christmas in the midst of the cold, and the singer
reminisces about building snowmen with his family before going off to see his
grandparents. A very Norman Rockwell-esque nondysfunctional portrayal of family
togetherness at Christmas, and they don't sound like they're being ironic about
it at all.
9. The Diskettes "Noel"
The Diskettes were one of the main reasons why I was excited about this CD.
They're probably the best band in Canada at the moment because Sloan just sucks
now. They have a minimalist acoustic approach to pop with lots of boy-girl
At first, I thought this song was some sort of traditional French-Canadian
Christmas carol, but a search for all the lyrics online yielded no results, so I
guess this is original. I love this song, but I don't know if I could
describe it in a way to do it justice. The verses have lyrics like "You heard it
carried by the wind, you heard it rising from the creek," followed by the words
"With love" (but sung like "lo-o-o-o-ve"). The chorus is "Noel, noel" followed
by some lyrics in French. This appeal of this song is subtle, and mostly in the
delivery, so this is probably one that you have to hear to appreciate. And if
you do hear it, I'm sure you definitely will appreciate it.
10. Snoozer "Sub-Zero"
A moog-driven song about the torturous cold of winter. These lyrics say it
all: "Sub-zero. I'm all alone. My feet are buried in the snow. If I can make it
through another winter, I can make it through anything."
11. Thee Moths "Summer Tastes Wrong"
Remember when I said there were only ten, not eleven, delicious cups of
holiday cheer on this CD? Here's why.
Is it just me, or is there some alarming trend with theme compilations where
some band will submit a boring IDM/noise track that has very little to do with
the theme of the compilation, if at all? Well, this is the album's boring IDM
I'm surprised that this would suck so much because I've heard a couple of
Thee Moths tracks, and they were pretty good pop songs. Listen, Thee Moths, I
know you could do better! I can't believe that you'd just cop out like this. You
should have just gone back and actually tried to make a good pop song that
fits this compilation's theme. Hell, a straight, a capella rendition of "Jingle
Bells" would have been preferable to this. Save the IDM/noise stuff for the
unlisted track at the end of your CD.
And a note to all compilation arrangers... I don't know if there's some sort
of ironic joke connected with this putting unrelated IDM/noise tracks on theme
compilations trend, but it's not funny, and it has to stop. Why can't you
have some standards and draw the line somewhere? The songs on your compilation
don't have to all be mindblowingly great, but they don't have to be boring and
Anyway, that's it. I'm sorry the CD had to end on that note, but the other
ten tracks are worth it. This album is the successor to the Kindercore Christmas
comps, and it's a must-have for any indiepop fan.
Label website: http://www.totalgaylordrecords.com
As a reward for reading through all this stuff, here's a link to MP3s of the Beatles' Christmas records.