Just Can't Get Enough: A New Wave Xmas Album Review

It’s day four of my deviation from the rest of this year’s project! I’m writing about 7 different Christmas albums this week, leading up to the big day itself.

Do you like Christmas? COOL.

Do you like music from the 1980s, ostensibly the greatest decade of music ever written and recorded? COOL.

Do you like egregious keyboards or food? COOL.

Do you know what New Wave is? COOL.

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you’ll certainly enjoy Just Can’t Get Enough: A New Wave Xmas! I have to admit, yesterday’s experience with James Brown’s Funky Christmas was… a little painful. I like my Christmas as funky as the next, but mayhaps 17 tracks is a bit much?

Which is precisely the reason you need to cleanse your palate with 17 more, but this time, LET’S NEW WAVE!

Released in 1996, Just Can’t Get Enough is a collection of a bunch of Christmas songs spanning the New Wave era, primarily centered in the 1980s. Despite an appearance by the legendary Bing Crosby (I know, right?) – and coupled by the fact that it’s a duet with David Bowie (!) – A New Wave Xmas takes the traditional Christmas holiday spirit, spins it right round, and turns it on its weird little head.

For some perspective, the most normal inclusion on here is the David Bowie song with Bing. Yup. Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke is this record’s CPA.

I will forever be into Christmas music, but especially an entire album of songs written and recorded during the greatest musical period in the history of civilization, the veritable ‘80s.

From A New Wave Xmas, this is one of the more ridiculous things you’ll see all (the rest of this) year, Captain Sensible’s “One Christmas Catalogue” –


This is Bing Crosby & David Bowie’s “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” –

Standout tracks: Good Lord, whatever Root Boy Slim and The Sex Change Band with The Rootettes’ “Xmas At Kmart” is, I need to hear it forever. Also, David Bowie/Bing Crosby’s version of “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” is exactly what you’d expect it to be: perfect.
Weakest track: None, are you serious? You hate Christmas music, you Grinch? You hate FUN, you Philistine? You are the worst.

RIYL: CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Also, if you ever wanted to find ‘weird’ Christmas music that doesn’t quite fit the mold. This. This is everything.




James Brown's Funky Christmas Album Review

It’s day three of my deviation from the rest of this year’s project! I’m writing about 7 different Christmas albums this week, leading up to the big day itself.

Do you like Christmas? COOL.

Do you like the funkiest dude of all time? COOL.

Do you like James Brown or fun? COOL.

Do you know who James Brown is? COOL.

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you’ll certainly enjoy James Brown’s Funky Christmas, one of the Funky Man’s three Christmas albums released in just four years. Are you serious, dude? You could never like Christmas much as JB does. Don’t even bother trying.

James Brown’s Funky Christmas is a collection of 17 Christmas songs: some versions of old time favorites, but mostly brand new songs BOUND to be classics some 40+ years lat- oh. That’s just, like, my opinion though (man).

I will forever be into Christmas music, but especially the funkiest of all time.

From James Brown’s Funky Christmas, this is “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” –

Standout tracks: “Go Power at Christmas Tree” and “Santa Claus is Definitely Here”
Weakest track: None, are you serious? You hate Christmas music, you Grinch? You hate FUN, you ogre? You are the worst.

RIYL: CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Also, a man more prolific with (the oddly specific) funky Christmas albums than you’ll ever be with anything else you’ll ever do, dude. KNEEL BEFORE THE GODFATHER.



Various Artists - A Very Special Christmas Album Review

It’s day two of my deviation from the rest of this year’s project! I’m writing about 7 different Christmas albums this week, leading up to the big day itself.

Do you like Christmas? COOL.

Do you like musicians made popular mostly in the 1980s? COOL.

Do you like Run-DMC (or PCP)? COOL.

Do you know who Run-DMC is? COOL.

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you’ll certainly enjoy A Very Special Christmas, a compilation record released the year I was born, so obviously it’s way more special. 1987. Forever.

A Very Special Christmas is a collection of 15 versions of popular Christmas songs performed by various groups who were once popular did in various (but mostly dated) styles, including The Pointer Sisters’ doing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the ridiculous John Mellancamp cover of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and Bon Jovi doing whatever “Back Door Santa” is. I assume it’s pornographic. Don’t go based on my assumptions though.

I will forever be into Christmas music, but especially various artist Christmas compilations from 1987. FOREVER!

From A Very Special Christmas, this is U2’s version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” –

…and a bonus! Run-DMC’s classic “Christmas In Hollis” –

Standout tracks: Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and BRUCE’s “Merry Christmas Baby”
Weakest track: None, are you serious? You hate Christmas music, you Grinch? You hate FUN, you oaf? You are the worst.

RIYL: CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Also, the 1980’s, ostensibly the greatest decade of all time.



The Ventures' Christmas Album Review


In a deviation from the rest of this year’s project, I’m writing about 7 different Christmas albums this week, leading up to the big day itself. Today’s record by surf rock group The Ventures gets us started.

Do you like Christmas? COOL.

Do you like surf rock? COOL.

Do you like Dick Dale? COOL.

Do you know who Dick Dale is? COOL.

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you’ll certainly enjoy The Ventures’ Christmas Album from 1965.

Surf is a brand of ‘50s and ‘60s-inspired guitar rock, popularized by the legendary Dick Dale during this same time period. Dick Dale is to surf rock as Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat: neither happens without their respective presidents. It’s a brand of music marked by tons and tons of reverb, which is referred to as a ‘wet’ sound and hence, the association with surfing.

The Ventures’ Christmas Album is a collection of 12 versions of popular Christmas songs the band did in the style of surf rock, including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Blue Christmas” and “White Christmas.”

Why we have to color Christmas when there’s clearly a war against it is beyond me, but this is the America we live in today.

I will forever be into Christmas music, but especially surf rock Christmas compilations from 1965. FOREVER!

From The Ventures’ Christmas Album, this is THE WHOLE THING! MERRY CHRISTMAS AMIRITE –

Standout tracks: “Sleigh Ride” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
Weakest track: None, are you serious? You hate Christmas music, you Grinch? You hate FUN, you toad? You are the worst.

RIYL: CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Also surf rock.


Day 352 – #343. Underoath – Disambiguation

Underoath - Disambiguation Album Review

Today is the last day before this year’s CHRISTMAS SPECIALTACULAR IMPACT WEEK (OF JUSTICE!) 20-THIRTEEN!, in which I’ll be writing about 7 Christmas albums that you may have heard of, but probably not. It’ll be great, I assure you.

Too bad Underoath’s final releases, Disambiguation, is a limp lead-in. Womp-womp, sad face.

By far the weakest and most forgettable Underoath album, Disambiguation is a sludgy mess – certainly not the album you’d wanna go out on as a band. I felt a complete disconnection from the record, also known as the group’s signature symbol (Ø), from the very onset of when I heard it.

The band is so heavy-handed with sampling in layers that it becomes difficult to sift through the static. Guitars are washed, indiscernible underneath waves of keys and synths and bass. Where drums sounded clean on previous Underoath records, now they sound almost forgotten about, having lost their power in the mix.

Don’t get me wrong: This was one of my favorite bands in my teens.

I guess I just grew out of it. I couldn’t name a single song on this album that stuck with me. Both They’re Only Chasing Safety (an album that appeared on just the second day of this project) and Define the Great Line are two of my favorite metalcore/post-hardcore records ever. Lost in the Sound of Separation, too, had some insane moments.

Maybe it’s the fact that Disambiguation is the first release in which none of the original members of Underoath appear. Not a single one. And as I wrote, also very early on, at this point in the history of the band, there were more members in Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster than there were Underoath.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I, like so many others in this world, grew up and – for the most part – out of this style of music. Sure, it’s fun to put on and jam every now and again. And it’s especially good to see in a live setting (looking at you, The Chariot). But man… on a recorded form, and this being their 7th studio release… how long can you play one note? Probably for the best that this was it.

But that’s just, like, my opinion man.

From Disambiguation, this is the only song I can really get into, “Illuminator” –

Standout tracks: “Illuminator” and… that’s really about it.
Weakest track: ^

RIYL: Oof. Do not want.


Day 351 – #278. A Plea for Purging – Depravity

A Plea for Purging - Depravity Album Review

SOMETIMES a band that you once liked a whole lot because of the culture in which you were immersed for a long time but no longer identify with will release an album that you listen to a lot after discovering them based on a hilarious, satire-laden mock infomercial but lacks any kind of diversity past the ‘one note’ songs even though those ‘one note’ songs are p good for the genre and sort of a guilty pleasure now, years later.

See: fig. 1 – A Plea for Purging’s 2009 release on Facedown Records, Depravity.

See: fig. 2 – One of my favorite videos of all time. Enjoy “Malevolence” or face certain doom.

Standout tracks: “Malevolence” and “Holocausts”
Weakest track: DO U LIKE THE METAL? Ok.



Day 350 – #113. Edison Glass – Time is Fiction

Edison Glass - Time is Fiction Album Review

It’s officially the last cool, round number of this year’s project. I’m freaking out a little. Here’s why:

-It’s my last week as the fall 2013 intern for All Songs Considered.
-I’m going to miss the absolute hell out of those interns who aren’t staying here in DC once this week is over – but I’m grateful so many of us are staying. Something like 10 of us will still be here in DC between NPR and other organizations.
-I’m taking a bus up to New York to see Brand New play the tiny Bellhouse in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn this coming Sunday. Kevin Devine is opening. It’s a 350 capacity venue, and tickets sold out in something like 15 seconds? Idk. Glad to have gotten one.
-I’m flying home the night after the show, next Monday. I haven’t been in Florida since September 7th. I haven’t seen my family since September 6th. I miss them a lot. I haven’t seen my dog since September 7th. I miss him a lot.

How are any of the these tedious facts relevant to today’s album, Edison Glass’ Time is Fiction? In truth, they aren’t.

But they are as or more interesting than any song on this record not called “Let Go” or “Cold Condition.” Which, as the opener duo, doesn’t speak to the rest of the album. Actually, that’s not entirely true either. There’s some good ideas throughout this album, but the execution doesn’t match the heart and drive of the band that disappeared off the face of the planet after this record.

When I was in a band with two of my best friends in the world and some girl (jk, love your heart Baby Cassie), we listed many groups as our primary influences, but two in particular stood out to me amongst the Anathallos of our peers: Jonezetta and Edison Glass. As a dancey-minded indie rock band, the Glassers had the same vibe we were attempting to recreating: gritty guitars, over-the-top fuzzy bass, catchy hooks and licks, and grooves that attempted to get people out of their seats.

I remember playing a show in a church where the kids didn’t get out of their seats. Even after we asked them. Oh well. It was their loss. We played really well that night (and still got paid, what up).

I really wish this band had stuck around longer than they did. Not sure why they parted ways after this record was released in 2008 and its subsequent touring cycle, but I think their next record could have been great.

Good for a minute, especially that single, which is so catchy it shouldn’t even be legal.

There’s 15 days left in the year.

Make or do something special.

From Time is Fiction, this is “Let Go” –

Standout tracks: “Let Go,” “Cold Condition,” and “Without a Sound”
Weakest track: …the rest of this record is pretty forgettable.

RIYL: Embracing Lief (heheh).


Day 349 – #286. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back Album Review

Much earlier this year, I wrote about Public Enemy’s 1990 smash Fear of a Black Planet, which sold over a million copies in a week. Even in the days of Beyoncé surprise albums we’ll rarely see that feat again.

Fear’s predecessor was the 1988 release It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, meaning that I would still be dependent on my parental units to bathe, feed, and clothe me for another… I dunno, couple two three years before I would understand the concept of music, and another 3+ years till I could even begin to understand the concept of racism.

Here’s what I want to say about It Takes a Nation: Music is universal. Of course. We get that. As music fans, it’s something we hear now and again.

But how does that actually translate?

For me, in the simplest sense, it means that 25+ years later, a listener like myself can still have his eyes opened to the pervasiveness of that culture during the time period we know now as the ‘golden age of hip-hop,’ one which will never be recreated. To be so affected by the sounds that were curated then that I set out to learn as much as I could about the stories and climate of the times.

But for as much as a person can read up and watch documentaries and try to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in Queens or Harlem in the ‘80s, or Compton in the early ‘90s, it’s almost useless – even downright offensive. Who am I to try to put myself in the shoes of someone my age who lived there then?

That’s why I have unbound heaps of respect for Chuck D., Terminator X/DJ Lord/Professor Griff, The S1W, and yes, even the cartoonish figure that Flava Flav has become. To try to make a comparison to our current culture would be tone deaf, and borne from a source of entitlement, no matter how innocuous or unintentional.

I’ve stopped trying to rationalize and reconcile with the era, and have just learned to try to respect it as much as possible, and be eternally grateful for the music that it produced, no matter the hardships faced by those who assisted in its creation.

Public Enemy is an alum on the roster of the most important musicians in the last 30 years. Nothing in music will – or, dare I say, even can try – to make as much of an impact as their music had, alongside groups like N.W.A., Tribe, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Gang Starr (and a slew more not mentioned here) and later, the Wu-Tang Clan.

Even if you don’t ‘understand’ this type of music, it’s important to realize why it’s important its influence on later generations of music. Any rapper in the last 15 years that released a record that you recognize or like was impacted by Public Enemy. Period. Learn ya somethin’.

From It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, this is “Night of the Living Baseheads” –

Standout tracks: So much here. “Bring the Noise” was huge – also “Don’t Believe the Hype.” “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic,” “She Watch Channel Zero?!” and “Night of the Living Baseheads” are all super captivating. “Rebel Without a Pause.” Album closes on “Party For Your Right to Fight,” seriously? Insane.
Weakest track: 6+ minutes of the beat on “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” will wear on a man, you know.

RIYL: Hearing all the different influences of this band in a thousand groups since.


Day 348 – #149. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear - Shields Album Review

Grizzly Bear’s 2012 release Shields made it on my top 12 albums of 2012 last year.

Here’s what I wrote then, and some new thoughts at the bottom:
It’s been a full three years since Grizzly Bear last released an album (2009’s Veckatimest). In the meantime, Bear members Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen both released solo records.

Taylor, Bear bassist, released an album under the moniker CANT called Dreams Come True. If you’ve heard that record, you know it… wait for it… CANT do no wrong. Up top, everybody.

Really though, Dreams Come True was a totally satisfying experimental record that was part Yeasayer, part Black Moth Super Rainbow (and other, equally weird parts) – but only the newer, introspective Black Moth that relies far less on the psychedelic than it does on the much more palatable, catchy electronica. It was spacey goodness, and made the wait between GB records less agonizing. Further, Taylor’s vocal style doesn’t depart from his main band, which I thought was refreshing. Come to think of it, all of the GB boys have distinguished vocal styles, easily picked up throughout their songs. Some bands with multiple vocalists run into the issue of too little differentiation, wherein their vocals blur and sludge together. Not so with GB.

Likewise, Rossen’s Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP, released this year (and, spoiler alert, also to be featured in my year-ending EP list) reminded me a lot of the stripped down elements from GB. Rossen’s voice, like Taylor’s, is so easily recognizable. If tracks from both spin-off records were lumped in with GB albums in a blind “taste test” of sorts, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish where they came from because of how utterly familiar they sound.

TL;DR version of the last two paragraphs: the side band records released this and last year were enough to hold over any Grizzly Bear fan.

That being said, as it is with any type of extended hiatus from a well-respected band, expectations will run high. Veckatimest was a record I listened to till I couldn’t anymore. In this age of the popular digital single and the mostly forgettable “rest of the album,” Veckatimest was a straight jammer the whole way through. End to end hits.

Shields, on the other hand, glides its way through its latter three or four tracks until its “epic” (shudder) closing track.

From the online reaction I garnered, the first single to come out ahead of Shields’ release, “Sleeping Ute,” garnered split reviews. While easily recognizable as a Grizzly Bear tune, the song relies heavily on distortion and trippy effects. We’ve seen this before from GB, but as an additive, not the showcase. It was a significant departure from stripped down, breathy tracks like “While You Wait for the Others” from Veckatimest.

That’s also my general consensus for the record. Sometimes when you get your expectations up so high for a record, you’re not… let down, per se, so much as having to shift your preconceived notions.

This all sounds terribly negative, doesn’t it? It’s not. Despite a rather forgettable middle, my experience with Shields is a positive one, landing Grizzly Bear at number 12 on my list of top albums of ought-12.

Lead single “Sleeping Ute” is a standout. “Adelma,” a minute long instrumental track, is delicate and tremendous. The last song, “Sun in Your Eyes,” builds to the point of creating a perfection analogy for my initial frustration with this album on the whole – only to resolve with huge fuzzy bass and I wasn’t pent up anymore. I don’t want to say it gave me blue balls, but it kind of gave me blue balls.

On a scale from “Timothy Treadwell” (too soon?) to “adorable grizzly bear cub vibes, I give Grizzly Bear’s Shields  a solid “waving Kodiak bear.”

p.s. please tour Florida, thanks.

Standout tracks: “Sleeping Ute” and “Sun in Your Eyes”


Since this post, the group did, in fact, tour Florida. They came through earlier this year at the Ritz in Ybor City. Ironically enough, I did not go.

After seeing Beach House last year and being bored to tears by the show, I’ve had to make up my mind well I’m advance of whether or not it’s worth it to see electronically-minded indie rock or pop bands. Just like with some rappers (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with Lendrick Kamar), the magic is on the album, not in the live performance. Same goes for a band like HAIM, whose stage show is not quite there yet. Few more tours in the oven and I’ll check back in.

To me, the Beach House show sounded like someone pressed play while Victoria sang and their drummer hit a bunch of things. Sure, their light show might have been on point, but the performance was so decidedly timid. There was nothing exciting or exceptional about it.

I felt the same way about the potentiality of seeing the Grizzly Bears. I ended up passing on that show, partially because it was expensive, and partially because I felt like I wasn’t really missing anything. In a way I regret that now, but also I don’t because broke.

I’ve largely ignored Shields this year in favor of the kajillion other records that came out. But in treading through it today, I can say with confidence that it’s the logical progression past Veckatimest. It’s a more mature record both in sound and scope.

I wouldn’t say that the group lost the distinct colors and textures from Veckatimest, but they have toned it down a bit. More pastels this time than watercolor.

Into it!

From Shields, this is “Sleeping Ute” –

New standout tracks: “Speak in Rounds” and “Yet Again”
Weakest track: “Gun-Shy,” because the Beatles’ influence is murdering me in my sleep.

RIYL: Lush indie pop/rock.


Day 347 – #139. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F#A#∞

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F#A#∞ Album Review

This album came out in 1996? For real?

I’m having more and more of those experiences lately. So much has changed in the last two and a half decades of the recording industry – in the way of technology, distribution methods, consumption – that few records seem ‘dated’ anymore.

If anything, with the resurgence of 80s and 90s music as an influence on electronic and pop music, intentionally dating something is the new ‘dated.’

Which is why Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F#A#∞ makes so much sense: the infinity symbol, also known as the lemniscate, is right there in the album’s title.

If you were to say it out loud, I guess it’d be “F-sharp, A-sharp, lemniscate.” Or, perhaps, “F-sharp, A-sharp, infinity.” Doesn’t exactly leap off the tongue – this record won’t do that. It’s a slow-churning process of an album, one that works on a couple of different levels, as all of GYBE’s work seems to do.

Should you decide to put it on in the background, as I often do at work just to have something to break up the silence, you may feel uncomfortable, or even unnerved.

You may recognize the song “East Hastings,” as a heavily rearranged and shortened version appeared on John Murphy’s soundtrack for the film 28 Days Later.

Without being snarky or elitist, Godspeed’s music is not accessible. Like, at all. F#A# is made up of only three tracks, and each exceeds 16+ minutes, with closer “Providence” stretching nearly a half hour.
These are not digestible singles. These are mammoth slow-burns, led by long periods of guitar-led instrumentals, sometimes sparse drum sections reminiscent of world music, and meant to be experienced on a different level than ‘conventional’ music as we know it.

I want to make a distinct point here though, just because it’s been killing me since October: I saw this group live here in DC, opening for Nine Inch Nails, and they were entirely disappointing. They jammed for 45 minutes and then unceremoniously left the stage. No interaction with the audience whatsoever, no attempt to engage or participate. It was one of the oddest shows I’ve seen, and I was left underwhelmed.

Why is it that long form music like this doesn’t translate well live? Is it because the magic is on the record rather than in front of an audience?

One way or another, F#A# is a daunting record from a band that practically dares you to listen to them.

From F#A#∞, this is “East Hastings” –

Standout tracks: Well, there’s only three songs…
Weakest track: …Well, there’s only three songs…

RIYL: Songs as long as sitcom episodes.