It’s Christmas, Man!
Sure enough, as soon as the Halloween candy comes down and the Xmas stuff goes up, it’s time to review another batch of holiday-style releases. As I do every year, I’ll remind our gentle readers that holiday music is your best music value. While you may play the crap out of that platinum seller for about three weeks before it begins gathering dust on your shelf, you’ll find your seasonal discs returning to the stereo year after year.
Leading the pack this particular year is Mark Mothersbaugh’s Joyeaux Mutato (Rhino), a refreshingly undisciplined approach to the mystery of yuletide ambiance. Mothersbaugh (founding member of Devo, currently scoring cartoons like Rugrats) really takes the spirit through the wringer, and pulls it through the other side sparkly and white. Joyeaux definitely sounds Christmas-like, without resorting to traditional pieces or sappy jingle bell instrumentation. Of special note is the closing “I Don’t Have a Christmas Tree (Soylent Night),” which features a nice up-close digital beep every now and then to help you shake off all that eggnog.
The second My Pal God Holiday Record (My Pal God) is quite interesting, but not necessarily as something that will uplift your tired shoppin’ spirit. Sometimes dark, sometimes delicate, this collection of bands does strange things like create a medley of “Island of Misfit Toys” and “Little Drummer Boy” (as Neutrino did) or Emperor Penguin’s pornographic “Erotic Xmas”. Also worth noting is Port Vale’s “The Snowmen,” which sounds straight out of the basement.
Our first disappointment comes from The Looney Tunes’ Kwazy Christmas (Rhino). More like Politically Kowekt Christmas, I say. This is a tragic misuse of these wonderful characters’ voices and personalities; the end result is diffuse at best, downright clich•d at worst.
If you like your holidays with a healthy dose of potty mouth, it’s going to be hard to beat last year’s South Park record. However, Sleighed (Hip-O) makes for a strong contender, with songs like Red Peters’ “You Ain’t Getting S**t for Christmas”, Sonic Youth’s “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” and — best of all — Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With The Devil.” Rough and ready, Sleighed is for those who want to try out their new extreme sports gear come Christmas morn. It also features tracks by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, Beck and more.
Let us now travel a little bit. Renowned “world music for the masses” label Putumayo has two entries this year, A Putumayo World Christmas and A Jewish Oddyssey. Both yield the results you may expect. World Christmas takes you on a whirlwind tour of Jesus-worshipping countries, with strong entries from Spain and the Caribbean, and a quite interesting “Fireside Ki Ho’alu” from Hawaii. To be honest, A Jewish Odyssey is not at all a Hannukah album, but for lack of a better entry, it’ll have to do for us Chosen. Music from all manner of Jewish traditions is present, along with some interesting entries from Italy and Brazil.
Next, we have a proto-foreign entry. Mambo Santa Mambo (Rhino again– they own this market) is eighteen tracks of Latin-flavored yuletide joy. Sometimes the flavoring is Taco Bell Mild, like the Flashcats’ “December Twenty Five,” a parody of “Mambo #5.” Other times, it’s fried plantains with rice and beans, as in Celia Cruz and “El Cha Cha Cha de la Navidad.” Sometimes it’s canapes, as in the loungy turns at “Rudolph” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” (the latter featuring Esquivel). And a couple of times it’s cold 7-11 nachos — as in the shrill and schmaltzy “How Can Santa Come To Puerto Rico?”
Finally, as always, I like to point out winners from years past: Brave Combo (whose album on Rounder gives this outing its name), the Bobs (also Rounder), Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics and the Blue Hawaiians’ Christmas on Big Island.